gas prices, pointing to the slow pace of issuing permits for new offshore oil wells in the wake of last summer's massive Gulf of Mexico spill and an Obama-imposed moratorium on new deep-water exploration.
The president struck back at that criticism Wednesday, saying his administration has approved 39 shallow water drilling permits since new standards were put in place last year, and seven new deepwater drilling permits in recent weeks.
"So any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we've shut down oil production might make for a useful political sound bite, but doesn't track with reality," Obama said.
Obama said a significant part of his plans to cut U.S. oil imports would depend on further increases in domestic production, and he pledged to develop new incentives for companies to speed up oil and gas production on current and future leases. An Interior Department report released Tuesday said more than two-thirds of offshore leases in the Gulf of Mexico are sitting idle, neither producing oil and gas nor being actively explored by the companies who hold the leases. The department said those leases could potentially hold more than 11 billion barrels of oil and 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Even if Obama's efforts can reduce U.S. demand for foreign oil, experts say that's unlikely to bring down the cost of gasoline, since oil is priced globally and increased demand from China and other developing nations continues to push prices up. A longer-term energy strategy, he said, would also depend on boosting the use of alternative energy sources, including natural gas and biofuels. "We have to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy," Obama said. "And we have to do it quickly."
Obama called for the construction of four new advanced biofuel plants in the U.S. within the next two years. However, advanced biofuels — fuels made from non-food sources such as wood chips, switch grass or plant waste — are still in their infancy and cannot yet be made in amounts similar to corn ethanol. Congress has directed more money to research and development of those fuels in recent years as some critics of corn ethanol have linked the diversion of corn for fuel to rising food prices. The president also ordered government agencies to ensure that by 2015, all new vehicles they purchase are alternative-fuel vehicles, including hybrid and electric. Obama has previously set a goal of putting 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015.