President Bush, saying "gas prices are on our mind," today promised that the government is again prepared to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to alleviate any crude oil shortages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"It's important for our people to know that we understand the situation and that we're willing to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to mitigate any shortfalls in crude oil that could affect our consumers," Bush said.
The strategic reserve holds about 700 million barrels of crude oil, and when gas prices spiked dramatically earlier this month because drilling was halted by Hurricane Katrina, the government provided some refineries with crude oil to help ease the crisis. Gas prices have not risen as quickly following Hurricane Rita, although a number of refineries have been at least temporarily closed by the storm.
Bush called on Americans to "pitch in" and conserve gas by reducing non-essential travel, teaming up in carpools and using mass transit.
After a briefing at the Department of Energy headquarters in Washington, Bush said the two storms showed that the United States needed to add additional gasoline capacity in the form of more and expanded refineries and alternative sources of energy production.
Bush said the administration is also continuing to waive rules that require special gasoline and diesel blends in some parts of the country in an effort to cut pollution.
"We're paying close attention to the markets . . . ," Bush said. "A lot of our production comes from the Gulf and when you have a Hurricane Katrina followed by a Hurricane Rita, it's natural, unfortunately, that it's going to affect supplies."
Bush announced that about 1.8 million barrels per day in Texas and Louisiana refining capacity that was shut by the back-to-back hurricanes would be on line soon.
But, he said, the storms showed "how fragile the balance is of supply and demand in America."
"These storms show that we need additional capacity in America to be able to meet the needs of the American people," Bush said. He said he would ask Congress to look at expediting the ability of the country's refiners to expand or build new refineries.
He said alternative sources of energy needed to be developed, too. "That's why I believe so strongly in nuclear power," Bush said.
Oil prices dropped today as markets reacted positively to news of relatively light damage to the U.S. petroleum processing center in Texas.
But 16 Texas oil refineries remained shut after the storm and crews found significant damage from Hurricane Rita to one refinery in the Port Arthur area.
Bush said he would be returning to the hurricane-affected area Tuesday, traveling to Beaumont and Port Arthur, Tex., two of the hardest-hit towns.