Counter Attack On Oil and Gas

Feeling the heat from Republicans, Democrats in Congress are pushing back in the battle over high oil and gasoline prices.

GOP lawmakers have been emphasizing the theme that Democrats are to blame for high energy costs, because they have blocked efforts to expand domestic production of oil and natural gas.

So today, four leading House Democrats will unveil a new bill that would require the oil industry to use millions of acres of offshore areas in the Gulf Of Mexico, which are already open to oil and gas exploration, before any new drilling leases are offered.

"With American families paying record prices at the pump, Big Oil should use the areas available to them right now, which equal the size of Georgia and Illinois combined," said a Democratic press release issued on Wednesday evening.

Democrats say as much as 68 million acres of offshore lands have been leased for exploration, but aren't being used.

While both parties kept pointing the finger of blame at each other on Wednesday, the Bush Administration weighed in as well with a call for action by the Congress.

"With crude oil already over $130 a barrel and gas at four dollars, everyone in elected office ought to explain what solutions they have in mind for bringing the cost down, or at least slowing the trend," said Vice President Cheney in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

"And if they're honest about it, they'll end up talking about increasing supply," Cheney added.

"It's my own view that we should be drilling in ANWR in an environmentally responsible way," said Cheney.

For many Democrats though, the idea of opening ANWR in Alaska to drilling is a non-starter, just as the idea of a windfall profits tax on Big Oil does not work for Republicans.

"Americans Cannot Afford to Wait While Congress Plays Partisan Politics over Energy Crisis," bellowed the headline on a release from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA.)

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House started an effort to try to do away with restrictions on offshore drilling in order to expand domestic supplies, as a House panel rejected their plan while working on next year's budget.

But as I detailed at the start of this blog entry, Democrats say that Big Oil isn't using the offshore leases they already have, which could give them millions of cubic feet of new natural gas and millions of barrels of crude oil.

The political stalemate continues.