WASHINGTON Allowing oil drilling in U.S. offshore waters that are now closed to energy exploration would do little to lower gasoline prices paid by consumers, the government's top energy forecaster said on Wednesday.
In response to record pump prices, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and President George W. Bush this month called for Congress to end its moratorium on drilling off the East and West coasts and in Florida waters, leaving it up to each affected state to decide where to permit drilling.
McCain and Bush said the additional oil supplies likely to be found in the closed areas would help reduce gasoline costs.
However, Guy Caruso, who heads the federal Energy Information Administration, said consumers would see little savings at the pump.
"It would be a relatively small effect, because it would take such a long time to bring those supplies on," Caruso said during a briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the EIA's new long-term international energy forecast. "It doesn't affect prices that much."
Most energy experts say it would take five to 10 years to find oil in the closed areas and bring the crude to market. Caruso said the additional supplies would amount to only a couple of hundred thousand barrels of oil a day.
"It does take a long time to develop these resources, and therefore the price impact is muted by that," he said.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is against opening more offshore areas to drilling for many of the reasons cited by Caruso.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett, editing by Matthew Lewis)