WASHINGTON President Bush says that while it's too early to assess how much damage Hurricane Gustav caused to U.S. oil infrastructure off the Gulf Coast, the storm should prompt Congress to OK more domestic oil production. Bush will view hurricane damage in Louisiana on Wednesday.
"One thing is for certain, when Congress comes back, they've got to understand that we need more domestic energy, not less," Bush said Tuesday 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 is keeping a hands-on profile in the aftermath of the hurricane, in contrast to the government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago. On Monday, he visited two emergency response centers in Texas just after the storm struck the Gulf Coast. Early Tuesday he was in the Roosevelt Room discussing the storm's impact on the oil industry with Vice President Dick Cheney and about 20 advisers, including the secretaries of Interior, Transportation and Energy.
On Wednesday, following his speech late Tuesday via satellite to the Republican National Convention, Bush is making several stops in Louisiana. The White House has not yet finalized the schedule.
Initial inspections of the Gulf Coast's extensive energy complex confirmed Tuesday that Hurricane Gustav was nowhere near as destructive as hurricanes Katrina and Rita three years ago, but resumption of production and refining may be a few days away, or more.
Oil companies, rig and pipeline owners and refiners spread out across the region to look for damage from Monday's storm, and some already were putting equipment and people back in place to resume operations. The full impact should be known in the next couple of days.
One major unknown remained: the fate of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, which shut down over the weekend.
Gustav appeared to roll directly over the facility, which handles about 12 percent of the nation's crude imports and is tied by pipeline to about half the nation's refining capacity, much of it along the Mississippi River from the New Orleans area north to Baton Rouge.
Any prolonged closure of the facility could severely disrupt crude imports and their shipment to refineries.
The price of oil, meanwhile, tumbled more than $8 a barrel in electronic trading Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, suggesting traders were confident that the energy complex suffered only a glancing blow.
Gustav roared ashore early Monday 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 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 were 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.
AP Business Writer John Porretto in Houston contributed to this report.