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Bush lifts ban on offshore oil drilling
15/7/2008 9:24

US President George W. Bush lifted yesterday an executive ban on offshore oil drilling, while calling on Congress to act as well.

"The American people are watching the numbers climb higher and higher at the pump and they're waiting to see what the Congress will do," Bush told reporters at.

"Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court," said the president. "The time for action is now."

"Failure to act is unacceptable," he said, noting Americans are "paying at the pump."

There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Bush, in his final months of office, has repeatedly urged the Democrats-dominant Congress to lift legislative restrictions on such activity before they begin a recession in August.

The US economy suffers from gasoline prices hike that has reached over US$4 a gallon (3.785 liter), and US Congress and the White House are stressing different ways to ease the oil crisis.

The White House insisted that increase in US oil drilling will help to deal with the soaring gas prices.

"Crude oil prices are up and one reason crude oil prices are up is because demand is outstripping supply," the president said last week.

"Now the only thing standing between consumers at the pump and the increased American energy they are demanding is the Democrat leadership in Congress," also said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "We should act and act now."

However, many Democrats in the Congress refused to lift the drilling ban, noting oil companies already have 68 million acres under government leases they can drill and any new oil from now-closed offshore areas would not be available for five to 10 years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has renewed her request to President Bush for more government-held oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to be released onto the market to check prices, which has been always resisted by the president.

"Right now the president has 700 million barrels of oil. He can release a small percent of it, less than 10 percent of it; have immediate impact on the price at the pump now, within 10 days, not within 10 years," Pelosi said.

"Let's be clear: Democrats support increasing the domestic production of petroleum and other energy resources," also said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer last week.

He said the legislation would speed up development of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, and reimpose a ban on foreign export of Alaskan oil.

Bush's move was immediately condemned by environmentalists who said drilling would not end U.S. dependence on oil or cut the prices at the pump.

"The solutions to this problem are not off our coasts," Athan Manuel, director of lands protection for Sierra Club, said. "The US does not contain enough oil to influence the world market."

Earlier Monday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said initially the president wanted to lift the executive ban in concert with Congress but decided to go ahead alone due to strong opposition from the Democrats.

"It has been nearly a month since the president urged the Congress to act to expand environmentally-friendly and responsible exploration for American energy," Perino told reporters.

"Congress has not moved forward despite calls from constituents and the continued pressure of record high energy prices," she said.