Do facts back Bush on Congress’ role in gas prices?

WASHINGTON — President Bush put politics ahead of the facts Tuesday as he sought to blame Congress for high energy prices, saying foreign suppliers are pumping just about all the oil they can and accusing lawmakers of blocking new refineries.

Bush renewed his call for drilling in an Arctic wildlife refuge, but his own Energy Department says that would have little impact on gasoline prices.

The spin: “We’ve got to understand there’s not a lot of excess capacity in the world right now,” the president said. Blaming “the lack of refinery capacity” for high energy prices, he said Congress has rejected his proposal to use shuttered military bases for refinery sites.

The facts: Global oil supplies are tight, in part because OPEC nations including Saudi Arabia are refusing to open their spigots. Saudi Arabia has considerable additional production capacity. It’s pumping a little over 8.5 million barrels a day, compared to about 9.5 million barrels a day two years ago.

On refineries, Congress has ignored Bush’s proposal to use closed military bases. But the oil companies haven’t shown much interest in building refineries either and have dismissed suggestions that military bases might be of use. They note, for example, that few bases are near pipelines needed to bring crude in and move finished product out.

The spin: Bush has long called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil development, and on Tuesday he chastised Congress for repeatedly blocking the proposal.

The facts: Strongly opposed by environmentalists, most Democrats and a few moderate Republicans, drilling in the Arctic refuge indeed has been blocked, as the president complained.

Energy experts believe ANWR’s likely 11 billion barrels of oil — pumped at just under 1 million barrels a day — would send a signal of increased U.S. interest in domestic energy production. However, in the long run, it likely would not significantly affect oil or gasoline prices. And it likely would have little impact on today’s prices.

In 2005, the Energy Information Administration estimated that it would take about 10 years before oil would flow from ANWR if drilling were approved.

The spin: Bush said “it is in our national interest” to continue pumping oil into the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve — about 70,000 barrels a day — “in case there is a major disruption of crude oil around the world.”

The facts: While some Democrats argue that halting deliveries to the reserve would lower prices, most energy experts agree with the president that it likely would not. But at least one Republican disagrees with the assertion that continued deliveries to the reserve are needed as a safeguard against a possible supply interruption.

“We have today a three-month supply of oil for emergencies,” noted Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who would like to see the deliveries stop. And that would assume a total cutoff of oil imports, an unlikely occurrence even if there are major supply disruptions.

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