Abraham says U.S. will not beg OPEC for more oil

Monday, March 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration will not go ``begging the OPEC countries or anybody else'' to increase oil production as long as the United States has untapped reserves that could ease an energy pinch, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Sunday.

Making the case for oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Abraham said no one should be surprised that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries recently chose to cut output to keep prices high.

``They have decided to put their own interests first, and I think that's something the American people need to recognize,'' Abraham told ``Fox News Sunday.'' ``We are not going to take the approach of begging the OPEC countries or anybody else with respect to oil production.''

Abraham's comments come amid concern about power shortages and blackouts in California, as well as the possibility of soaring electricity and gasoline prices across the country this summer.

Democrats argue that there are other ways to improve the country's energy efficiency than drilling in the Arctic refuge and that fuel should not come at the expense of the environment.

Some Democrats say President Bush, a Texas oil man, is wrongly using the California energy crisis to make his argument, when the state is suffering a shortage of electricity, not oil.

During the presidential campaign, Bush repeatedly talked of pressuring OPEC to keep oil production reasonable. He suggested his administration would be able to sway OPEC nations better than President Clinton's was. Some Republicans described Clinton's approach as embarrassing ``tin-cup diplomacy.''

Abraham said the Bush administration will make the argument to OPEC leaders that the supply and demand of the market should determine price, not cartel manipulations. Beyond that, the United States will not supplicate.

``We should not expect OPEC to necessarily just do what the United States considers in its best interests. And I think that just argues for us to develop more energy resources here at home,'' Abraham said.

Development of Alaskan reserves is a critical element of Bush's energy strategy. The refuge could hold as much as 16 billion barrels of oil, larger than reserves in neighboring Prudhoe Bay, although the oil would not be available for a decade.

Bush has acknowledged that opening the Arctic refuge to drilling may be a hard sell in Congress. Senate Democrats have pledged to block legislation that would lift the refuge's protection.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the refuge should remain pristine and that it is ``completely fraudulent'' for Republicans to suggest that America's dependency on oil is going to be solved by drilling in the refuge.

``It might at most ... mean a difference of 2 to 3 percent of our total supply, only for a short period of time,'' Kerry told CBS' ``Face the Nation.''

He also said Republicans are wrongly holding California up as an example of why the nation should drill. ``In California, only 1 percent of the entire electricity grid of California comes from oil. They're trying to sell the notion that this is going to address California. It doesn't address California,'' he said.

Environmental Protection Agency head Christie Whitman said the amount of oil believed to be in the refuge could supplant the total currently being bought from Kuwait _ for 30 years.

``Do we want to keep bringing it by tanker by Kuwait?'' Whitman asked on CNN's ``Late Edition.''

And Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, who appeared with Kerry on CBS, said if predictions of the amount of oil in the refuge proved true, ``it would be the largest oil field found in the last 40 years in the world.''