[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Wednesday called for Congress to relax restrictions on oil exploration [statement text], saying that it should end a long-standing prohibition against offshore oil drilling [JURIST news archive] and also allow drilling to begin in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [official website] in Alaska. Bush argued that resources currently off-limits to harvesters could offset rising fuel prices; according to some estimates, drilling on the outer continental shelf alone could yield approximately 18 billion barrels of oil. The current moratorium, in place since 1981, sets 85 percent of the coastal waters surrounding the US off-limits for oil drilling. The House Appropriations Committee [official website] delayed a scheduled Wednesday vote to renew the moratorium so that legislators could instead address emergency relief measures for midwestern flooding. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.
Environmental organizations have criticized efforts to expand oil drilling [WWF report] in the Arctic, calling for increased research into energy conservation and renewable resources instead. Critics have also said that offshore development will require several years and a massive infrastructure that could impact local wildlife.