President Obama called Friday for a "comprehensive energy strategy" in which the administration continues to develop the country’s oil and gas resources in the short term, but begins to wean the country off oil in the coming decades.
“We need to increase our access to secure energy supplies in the near term and we've got to make our economy more energy-efficient and energy-independent over the long run,” Obama said at a White House press conference Friday.
Republicans have zeroed in on the White House’s offshore drilling policies, arguing that the administration is restricting development in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when it is essential to develop the country’s domestic resources.
Obama pushed back at the criticism, pointing to new federal data that show domestic oil production is at a seven-year high.
“So any notion that my administration has shut down oil production might make for a good political sound bite, but it doesn't match up with reality,” he said. “We are encouraging offshore exploration and production. We're just doing it responsibly.”
Obama also sought to reassure the public that he’s willing to take action to lower gas prices.
“In an economy that relies on oil, gas prices affect everybody, from farmers and truck drivers to restaurant owners and workers, as well as consumers,” Obama said. “And businesses see rising prices affect their bottom line. Families see the pinch every time they fill up the tank.”
The administration is “prepared” to tap the country’s oil reserves if necessary, Obama said. But he stressed that the reserve has traditionally only been tapped when there are supply disruptions.
“Right now what we’re seeing is not a shortage of supply,” Obama said. “The problem is a great deal of uncertainty in the oil markets.”
Obama outlined a series of measures he is taking to monitor gas prices. He said he has instructed Attorney General Eric Holder to work with state attorneys general to monitor oil market speculation that could artificially raise oil prices.
He said he also instructed the Interior Department to report back within two weeks on the number of unused oil-and-gas leases on public land.
“So I directed the Interior Department to determine just how many of these leases are going undeveloped and report back to me within two weeks, so that we can encourage companies to develop the leases they hold and produce American energy,” he said.
At the same time, he said, the administration is looking at new oil-and-gas development onshore and offshore in Alaska and working to strengthen relationships with major oil-producing countries like Brazil.
But oil-and-gas drilling is “not a long-term solution,” Obama said.
“Even if we started drilling new wells tomorrow, that oil isn't coming on-line overnight,” he said. “And even if we tap every single reserve available to us, we can't escape the fact that we only control 2 percent of the world's oil, but we consume over a quarter of the world's oil.”
Obama stressed that the United States must “gradually reduce demand and then do everything we can to break our dependence on oil.”
He also pointed to a proposal he outlined in his State of the Union address, which would require that 80 percent of the country’s electricity come from low-carbon sources like wind, natural gas and nuclear by 2035.
The issue of oil dependency has been one that has plagued presidents for decades, and Obama said he hopes to deal with the issue during his presidency.
“I don't want to leave this for the next president and none of us should want to leave it for our kids.”