It’s unclear how much oil is in the area covered by the moratorium, but the federal Energy Information Administration estimates that the offshore region could produce more than 16 billion barrels, although it would take years for production to start.
“There is no excuse for delay,” Mr. Bush said in a statement delivered in the White House Rose Garden.
In his statement, the president outlined in broad terms what he believes should be done to ease soaring energy costs: Open offshore waters that are off-limits to oil company drilling, pump out some of the oil located in an Alaska wildlife refuge and expand the development of oil shale.
As part of the proposal, President Bush renewed his call to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
In recent years, “scientists have developed innovative techniques to reach Anwar’s oil with virtually no impact on the land or local wildlife,” the president said, according to the New York Times. “I urge members of Congress to allow this remote region to bring enormous benefits to the American people.”
Mr. Bush also urged the Democratic-led Congress not to stand in the way of progress.
“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past,” Mr. Bush said, according to the Times. “Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions.”
Many Republicans support lifting the ban, including Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain, claiming the move could reduce U.S. dependence on oil imports. Dependence on foreign oil and gas prices are expected to be pivotal issues in the upcoming presidential elections and presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama and McCain have already begun sparring on the issue.
Many Democrats and some Republicans who represent coastal states oppose ending the moratorium.
“This is not something that’s going to give consumers short-term relief and it is not a long-term solution to our problems with fossil fuels generally and oil in particular,” said presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, according to the Associated Press.
Majority Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also voiced his opposition.
“Despite what President Bush, John McCain and their friends in the oil industry claim, we cannot drill our way out of this problem,” Reid said, according to the AP. “The math is simple: America has just three percent of the world’s oil reserves, but Americans use a quarter of its oil.”
The president’s call to resume offshore drilling appears to go against the 1990 policy of his father, President George H.W. Bush, who signed an executive order banning coastal oil exploration as well as of his brother, Jeb, the former governor of Florida, an outspoken opponent of offshore drilling.
In 1981, a Congressional moratorium prohibited oil and gas drilling along the east and west coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. One motive for the federal ban was to protect tourism and lessen the chance of oil spills washing on to beaches.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said President Bush believes the federal government and the states could work together to share revenues from exploration.