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White House on defense over gas prices


The White House seemed to play defense today against Republican presidential candidates criticizing President Obama’s handling of gas prices, which at more than $3.50 per gallon, are the highest they’ve ever been this time of year

The administration pushed several news items Monday that appeared to counter the jabs of hopefuls like Newt Gingrich, who said on Fox News’ Sunday talk show that “under the Obama plan, there's going to be less American production, higher prices. … This president is anti-American energy.”

Late Monday morning, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Tweeted a link to a Houston Chronicle story on increased oil production, which the White House press office forwarded to reporters less than an hour later.

The article notes that shale oil fields and increased offshore drilling -- as well as a dip in the value of natural gas -- is fueling stepped-up oil production. But the article also cautioned, however, that more domestic oil doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper gas, given that our prices are tied to the world market, vulnerable to “foreign conflicts and rapidly growing energy demands in developing countries.”

About 40 minutes after Carney’s Tweet, the White House press office forwarded the article to reporters, with the article’s title in the subject line: “FORWARDING: ‘U.S. oil gusher blows out projections.’”

Seeking to perhaps further blunt criticisms like Gingrich’s, the White House also circulated a release from the Department of Interior Monday that announced an agreement with Mexico over further drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This agreement makes available promising areas in the resource-rich Gulf of Mexico and establishes a clear process by which both governments can provide the necessary oversight to ensure exploration and development activities are conducted safely,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

Monday’s announcements seemed to be a continuation of a rollout that began last week, when Interior announced Friday that Shell Oil was one step closer to drilling in Arctic waters, another fold in President Obama’s post-BP energy policy.

Shell was originally supposed to begin exploratory drilling off Alaska’s North Slope in the summer of 2010, before Salazar announced in May that he would not consider applications for Arctic drilling permits until 2011 amid safety concerns raised by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But on Friday, the Department of Interior announced that Shell had applied “lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon [BP] tragedy to offshore oil and gas production activities” and had submitted a satisfactory plan for responding to oil spills at potential drilling sites in the Chukchi Sea.

In a statement on the announcement, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stressed “caution,” as he lauded Shell’s getting approval. “In the Arctic frontier, cautious exploration - under the strongest oversight, safety requirements, and emergency response plans ever established - can help us expand our understanding of the area and its resources, and support our goal of continuing to increase safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production,” Salazar said. “We are taking a cautious approach, one that will help inform the wise decisions of tomorrow.”