WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, under pressure over high gasoline prices, Saturday committed to annual oil and gas lease sales in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve and to speeding up production in other areas.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the US leader admitted that one of the biggest burdens for US consumers in recent months had been the high price of gasoline -- which is more than four dollars a gallon in some areas.
"These spikes in gas prices are often temporary, and while there are no quick fixes to the problem, there are a few steps we should take that make good sense," Obama said.
The president vowed to increase safe and responsible oil production from US resources, at the same time as enhancing safety and environmental standards.
"To do this, I am directing the Department of Interior to conduct annual lease sales in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, while respecting sensitive areas," Obama said.
Previously, oil and gas leases had taken placed periodically in the Alaskan National Petroleum Reserve, but not on an annual basis.
Obama also offered to speed up the evaluation of oil and gas resources in the mid- and south Atlantic and to lease new areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
He also pledged to unveil new incentives for the oil industry to develop unused leases which have already been acquired.
In many cases, oil and gas giants say the costs incurred in areas leased out by the government would result in prohibitively expensive costs to be fully explored and exploited.
The inland Alaska National Petroleum Reserve lies to the west of the more famous Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), which Republicans and oil firms have been calling on Obama to open for drilling.
A senior administration official however told reporters "drilling in the Arctic refuge is off the table and we do not support development there."
In March 2010, Obama announced a plan to expand drilling along areas of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska.
But he reversed the decision later in the year, amid the environmental fallout of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf, and banned drilling in some areas until beyond 2017.
Saturday's move would extend drilling leases in some areas of the Gulf impacted by last year's temporary moratorium and it will establish a new interagency working group to ensure Arctic leases meet environmental standards.
Obama has previously vowed to cut US oil imports, which often come from volatile areas of the world by a third in just over a decade, and has also invested heavily in developing alternative energy sources.
But Republicans have charged that his reluctance to open US energy fields to full exploitation undermines his policy.
The president has also railed against oil industry giants for making huge profits while Americans suffer from rising pump prices and has called for 4 billion dollars in government subsidies to the industry to be revoked.
"Four billion dollars at a time when Americans can barely fill up their tanks. Four billion dollars at a time when we're trying to reduce our deficit. This isn't fair, it makes no sense," said Obama in the address.