Facing continued public unhappiness over gas prices, President Barack Obama is directing his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska's coast and holding more frequent lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska. Mr. Obama said Saturday that the measures "make good sense" and will help reduce U.S. consumption of imported oil in the long term. But he acknowledged anew that they won't help to immediately bring down gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon in many parts of the country.
His announcement followed passage in the Republican-controlled House of three bills that would expand and speed up offshore oil and gas drilling. Republicans say the bills are aimed at easing gasoline costs, but they also acknowledge that won't be immediate. The White House had announced its opposition to all three bills
, saying the measures would undercut safety reviews and open environmentally sensitive areas to new drilling.
But President Obama is adopting some of the bills' provisions. Answering the call of Republicans and Democrats from Gulf Coast states, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that he would extend all Gulf leases that were affected by a temporary moratorium
on drilling imposed after last year's BP oil spill. That would give companies additional time to begin drilling.
The administration had been granting extensions case by case, but senior administration officials said the Interior Department would institute a blanket one-year extension. New safety requirements put in place since the BP spill also have delayed drilling
in Alaska, so President Obama said he would extend lease terms there for a year as well. Lease sales in the western and central Gulf of Mexico that were postponed
last year will be held by the middle of next year, the same time period required by the House. A sale off the Virginia coast still would not happen until 2017 at the earliest. But President Obama said he would speed up environmental reviews so that seismic studies to determine how much oil and gas lies off the Atlantic Coast can begin.
To further expedite drilling
off the Alaskan coast, where such plans by Shell Oil Co. have been delayed by an air pollution permit
, President Obama said he would create an interagency task force to coordinate the necessary approvals. He also will hold annual lease sales in the vast National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska's North Slope