WASHINGTON - President Bush said Tuesday that while it's too early to assess Hurricane Gustav's damage to U.S. oil infrastructure off the Gulf Coast, the storm should prompt Congress to OK more domestic oil production.
"One thing is for certain, when Congress comes back, they've got to understand that we need more domestic energy, not less," Bush said in the Roosevelt Room. "One place to find it is offshore America — lands that have been taken off the books, so to speak, by congressional law — and now they need to give us a chance to find more oil and gas here at home.
"I know that the Congress has been on recess for a while, but this issue hasn't gone away," he said in a nudge to lawmakers who return from recess on Sept. 8.
Bush, keeping a hands-on profile on the aftermath of the hurricane in contrast to the government's poor response to Katrina, met in the Roosevelt Room with Vice President Dick Cheney and about 20 advisers, including the secretaries of Interior, Transportation and Energy.
Preliminary indications were that Gustav caused little damage to onshore and offshore facilities, though the full impact likely won't be known for a couple of days. Some oil companies, rig owners and refiners were already putting equipment and people back in place to resume operations.
The price of oil, meanwhile, tumbled more than $8 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, suggesting traders were confident that the energy complex suffered only a glancing blow.
Gustav roared ashore Monday morning and eight deaths were attributed to the storm in the U.S. after it killed at least 94 people across the Caribbean. It was downgraded to a tropical depression early Tuesday, and mandatory evacuation orders were lifted for three Southeast Texas counties. Though New Orleans was largely spared, there still was damage and anxious evacuees told not to come home yet.
In the days preceding Gustav, oil companies shut down virtually all oil and natural gas production in the Gulf, and the storm's threat halted about 15 percent of the nation's refining capacity based in the region. The U.S. Gulf Coast is home to nearly half the nation's refining capacity, while offshore the Gulf accounts for about 25 percent of domestic oil production and 15 percent of natural gas output.
Bush said that during Katrina, the force of the storm moved rigs and anchors hit pipelines.
"We didn't see much of that this time, but I will tell you it's a little early to be making any forecasts," he said.
Bush said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has been in touch with energy-producing states to help assess damage from Gustav and determine work that needs to be done.