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Bush backs candidate on oil drilling

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Bush backs candidate on oil drilling

By Andrew Ward in Washington

Published: June 19 2008 03:00 | Last updated: June 19 2008 03:00

George W. Bush yesterday offered his support to John McCain’s plan to lift the ban on fresh oil drilling off the US coast and accused Democrats of contributing to record energy prices by restricting domestic production.

The president called on the Democratic-controlled Congress to lift the moratorium that has limited access to offshore oil and gas reserves for more than two decades.

His intervention came a day after Mr McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, made the same proposal in a shift from his previous support for the ban.

Mr Bush said about 18bn barrels of oil were believed to exist in the 80 per cent of US coastal waters that are off-limits to drilling – enough to match current US production for 10 years.

The Republicans have made their push for increased domestic oil production a flagship policy ahead of November’s presidential election, amid mounting public anger about soaring petrol prices.

The Democrats are largely opposed to lifting the ban on fresh offshore drilling and have focused instead on increasing investment in renewable fuels and energy efficiency.

Energy has climbed towards the top of the election agenda as petrol prices have passed the $4 (€2.6, £2) a gallon mark for the first time, increasing the strain on households and businesses amid a sharp slowdown in the US economy.

Opinion polls show that most voters have greater trust in the Democrats to tackle the energy challenge but two-thirds support an expansion in offshore oil production – providing an opening for the Republicans to gain ground on the issue.

“My administration has repeatedly called on Congress to expand domestic oil production,” said Mr Bush, in a statement at the White House. “Unfortunately, Democrats on Capitol Hill have rejected virtually every proposal, and now Americans are paying the price at the pump for this obstruction.”

Mr Bush said advances in technology meant that oil and gas could be obtained from offshore seams without the environmental risks that led Congress to impose the moratorium in the early 1980s.

Critics say a lifting of the moratorium would have little impact on prices because it would take years for new offshore production to come on line and the volumes involved pale in comparison to the increases in demand from China, India and other developing countries.

But White House officials said it would have a short-term impact because of the signal it would send the market about the prospect of increased US supplies in future.

Mr Bush said his administration had already taken aggressive steps to promote renewable fuels and energy efficiency but insisted that increased domestic production of traditional energy sources was also essential to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.

“Americans will rightly ask how high gas prices have to rise before the Democratic-controlled Congress will do something about it,” he said.

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