CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and Mexico have pledged to help fill shortages in the U.S. oil supply due to the Alaska pipeline shutdown, the White House said on Tuesday.
BP Plc is shutting down its 400,000 barrel-a-day Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska after poor maintenance corroded the transit pipeline that moved the crude. The Energy Department says the pipeline might not come back online fully until January.
The pipeline problem, which hit at the heart of the U.S. summer driving season, threatens to shoot prices at the pump to new records above $3 a gallon.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said there did not seem to be a significant supply interruption at this stage, but that talks have been held with Saudi Arabia and Mexico in recent days and that the two governments had pledged to help out with any shortages.
“We’ve had contact with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Mexico. If there are supply shortages, they have agreed to help us in trying to address those. At this point, no refineries have reported shortages in petroleum, but, obviously, if those become a factor, we will address it and address it vigorously and in a timely manner,” Snow said.
Snow had no more details about how much oil Saudi Arabia and Mexico might be willing to provide.
He reiterated that the Bush administration was willing to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if necessary to fill gaps in U.S. supply, but said so far refineries have not made any such request.
“We’re actually in a pretty good supply situation,” Snow told reporters near President George W. Bush’s ranch.
He said U.S. officials would like to get the BP pipeline in Alaska up and running as soon as possible.
Faced with charges from Democratic New York Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record) that there has been a lack of oversight, Snow said the discovery of corrosion in the pipe was a result of pipeline inspection rules laid down by the Bush administration.
“We’re happy that BP finally is making progress in addressing concerns which have been discussed with it in the past,” he said.
A team of government investigators is at the site of the pipeline problem to assist in assessing the situation.
Asked if Bush was concerned about the impact of the pipeline shutdown on prices, Snow said: “I think any time you have a price increase, you want to try to address the root cause, and the root cause here is trying to go at it and deal with the pipeline integrity.”
“They have to be operating in a way that is safe and also environmentally sound,” he said.