President George W. Bush said Monday that the government is prepared to again tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to alleviate any new pain at the pump caused by Hurricane Rita's assault on the center of the nation's energy industry.
With early indicators offering reason for optimism and a speedy recovery, Bush nonetheless warned Americans to expect some effect on energy supplies.
"A lot of our production comes from the Gulf and when you have a Hurricane Katrina followed by a Hurricane Rita, it's natural, unfortunately, that it's going to affect supplies," Bush said after a briefing at the Energy Department.
"It's important for our people to know that we understand the situation and we're willing to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to mitigate any shortfall in crude oil that could affect our consumers."
Bush also expressed concern that the storm could cause disruptions in getting gasoline to market. As a result, he urged people in the area to curtail any nonessential travel and asked federal employees to carpool as much as possible.
"The storms have shown how fragile the balance is between supply and demand in America," he said.
He said he was returning to the hurricane-affected region on Tuesday, traveling to Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas _ two of the harder-hit areas. In a three-day trip he concluded on Sunday, Bush did not have direct contact with areas or people affected by the storm, spending the entire weekend getting briefings from military and other federal officials in Colorado, Texas and Louisiana.
The United States' four Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites on the Gulf Coast, two underground caverns in Texas and two in Louisiana, hold nearly 700 million barrels of oil.
Oil prices slid Monday, as markets reacted to reports of relatively light damage to crucial U.S. petroleum processing zones in Texas.