President Barack Obama said March 22 he was not opposed to oil exploration and pipelines but insisted that new drilling was insufficient to lower rising gas prices.
On the second day of a four-state tour to defend his energy plans, Obama was keen to thwart attacks from Republican foes who portray the president as advocating policies that will kill American jobs this election year.
Cushing, Okla., is the starting point of a southern portion of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline built by TransCanada that aims to eventually link Canadian oil deposits to refineries in Texas on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Obama administration has delayed a decision on the central portion of the projected pipeline after an ultimatum from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
But the president noted that new plans could still take place after an environmental study, arguing he was not opposed to the pipeline as such.
"As long as I'm president, we're going to keep on encouraging oil development and infrastructure, and we're going to do it in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people," Obama said."We don't have to choose between one or the other. We can do both."
He noted that his administration has approved "dozens" of new oil and gas pipelines over the past three years, including one from Canada, which is quickly rising as a major energy exporter to the United States.
Obama signed a memorandum earlier to expedite the review of pipeline projects from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, and other domestic pipeline infrastructure projects.
But at a time when gas prices are hovering near record highs as markets worry about tensions in the Middle East, Obama noted that "just drilling more gas and more oil by itself will bring down gas prices tomorrow or the next day or even next year."
"We use 20% of the world's oil; we only produce two percent of the world's oil," he added. "Even if we drilled every little bit of this great country of ours, we'd still have to buy the rest of our needs from someplace else if we keep on using the same amount of energy, the same amount of oil."
Republican House Speaker John Boehner expressed skepticism, saying the president was in Oklahoma "trying to take credit for a pipeline that doesn't even require his approval."
"Gas prices are rising, and Americans are frustrated with the gap between the president's words and his actions," Boehner said during his weekly press conference. "For three years, this administration has made every effort to block, delay and restrict new energy production in our country. He claims that he wants to address rising gas prices but his policies are actually making matters worse for families and small businesses."
Obama, who began his energy tour Wednesday with stops in Nevada and New Mexico to boast his oil and solar energy policies, will conclude it later Thursday in Ohio, a key bellwether state for the Nov. 6 elections in which the president is seeking a new term.
It was his first visit in Oklahoma, which gave two thirds support to his Republican opponent John McCain in the 2008 presidential elections.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012
Obama Trip Focuses on Energy Amid Soaring Prices