(Adds quotes on energy demand, OPEC, byline)
By Muriel Boselli
PARIS Oct 1 The return of U.S. oil refineries
to normal following last month's Hurricane Ike is taking longer
than expected, the U.S. energy secretary said on Wednesday.
Sam Bodman, who was in the French capital for a meeting on
nuclear power, also said that long-term energy projects needed
to expand supplies and meet demand could be at risk if the
financial crisis continued.
Hurricane Ike and earlier storms have disrupted oil supplies
in the United States, the world's top oil consumer, helping to
drain inventories. U.S. gasoline stocks as of late last month
sank to the lowest since 1967.
"I would have imagined we would have seen more progress,"
Bodman told reporters, adding it was expected to take four to
five weeks for the refineries to return to normal. "It's not
going to take 10 weeks."
The energy secretary's expectation of how long it will take
for the refining industry to recover is longer than an estimate
he gave on Sept. 25 that there would be "some interruptions" for
two to three weeks.
The U.S. Senate was preparing to vote later Wednesday on a
revised $700 billion plan aimed at halting the financial crisis,
the worst since the 1930s. Some energy projects could be hit if
the crisis was not resolved, Bodman said.
"If it doesn't get results, these long-term projects -- and
these are the most difficult to finance -- long-term projects
are at risk I would think," he said.
"Short-term projects like oil wells, they tend not to
operate with bank borrowing, they operate on their own."
Slowing economic growth and high oil prices have curbed
demand in the United Sates and other industrialised countries.
U.S. energy demand would be affected noticeably if there was no
resolution to the financial crisis, Bodman said.
"If it doesn't get resolved, it will have a significant
impact," he said.
The U.S. was among oil-consuming countries which earlier
this year was urging OPEC oil exporters to raise oil output to
lower prices, which hit a record high of $147.27 a barrel in
Bodman expressed dismay when asked about moves by Russia,
the world's second-largest oil exporter, to forge closer ties
with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
"It is not an encouraging position. I would hope that Russia
would worry about its investment and encourage foreign companies
to invest," he said.
(Reporting by Muriel Boselli; editing by James Jukwey)