Obama Says US Ready to Tap Oil Stockpiles

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), March 11, 2011

President Barack Obama called Friday for an investigation of possible oil price gouging and said the U.S. is prepared to tap federal oil stockpiles in the event of an emergency shortage.

"Should the situation demand it, we are prepared to tap the significant stockpile of oil that we have in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," Obama said. He also said the U.S. will "monitor any possible manipulation in the oil markets" and will ask the U.S. Attorney General and state agencies to monitor for potential price gouging.

Obama convened the news conference to address growing criticism from Republicans of his energy policies and calls from some Democrats urge him to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in attempt to temper rising oil prices spawned by unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

If a decision is made to open up the reserves, Obama said relief would come within several days.

"We have it teed up," he said.

Obama said his administration is looking at potential new oil development in Alaska and that he has ordered the Interior Department to look into unused leases the oil industry has on land an offshore. The president also said he working with U.S. allies "to keep all options on the table when it comes to any supply disruptions."

He used the moment Friday to renew his call for Congress to pass stalled comprehensive energy legislation to insulate the U.S. from dependence on oil and overseas supply disruptions.

"I don't want to leave this for the next president," Obama said.

Turning to Friday's disastrous earthquake in Japan, Obama said his administration will offer Japan "whatever assistance is needed" as the nation grapples with devastation. He also promised federal aid to the westernmost regions of the United States that have been impacted by the resulting tsunamis moving across the Pacific Ocean.

"I'm heartbroken by this tragedy," Obama said, referencing his connection with Japanese culture because of his upbringing in Hawaii.

Several hundred people are dead in Japan after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake, one of the five largest in history, and a resulting tsunami.

International affairs dominated Obama's press conference even as he remains locked in a high-stakes battle with Republicans over the budget, with both sides hoping to avoid a government shutdown next week.

Obama said Congress and the White House may have missed the opportunity to reach a solution before the short-term resolution runs out next Friday. He said Congress may need to reach another temporary resolution before reaching a permanent solution to continue funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

Democrats and Republicans, he said, need to come together and reach a compromise.

"It shouldn't be that complicated," Obama said.

Obama faced questions about his approach to the situation in Libya, where he has called for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down. He said Washington has designated an emissary to talk with the opposition in Libya in addition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's planned discussion with the group, and he rejected criticism that his administration has reacted too slowly to the situation.

"We are slowly tightening the noose on Mr. Gadhafi," Obama said. "I have not taken any options off the table at this point."

On Japan, the White House has been on full-alert since the president was informed of the earthquake at 4 a.m. Friday. Obama, who has twice visited Japan since taking office, called Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan after receiving a briefing from senior advisers and members of his national security team, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate.

Obama has ordered FEMA to prepare to assist Hawaii, the president's home state, and other Pacific regions of the United States that are currently threatened by tsunamis as a result of the quake.

The Pentagon dispatched a handful of U.S. Navy war ships are en route to Japan. Obama said the Pentagon is working to account for all U.S. troops in Japan. He also said the State Department is working to account for and assist any and all American citizens who are in Japan.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely," Obama said.

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