* Need to send message to Iran, speculators-Democrats
* US tapped oil stockpile last year on Libya crisis
* Lawmakers say need to reconsider oil product exports
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Feb 22 Three Democratic
lawmakers on Wednesday urged the White House to signal it is
ready to tap the nation's oil stockpiles to combat surging fuel
prices, arguing an "aggressive" strategy could tamp down
Oil prices hit their highest level in nine months on Tuesday
as tensions with Iran continue to rattle crude markets. The
skyrocketing oil costs have turned U.S. gasoline prices into a
key issue for the 2012 presidential election season.
President Barack Obama could prevent a "runaway increase" in
gasoline prices by showing he would not hesitate to release oil
from U.S. strategic petroleum reserve, salt caverns holding
about 696 million barrels of oil, said congressmen Edward
Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources
Committee, Peter Welch and congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.
"It is essential that the United States have an aggressive
strategy for releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve
to combat the speculators capitalizing on the fear in oil
markets," the lawmakers said in a letter to Obama.
Obama is slated to talk about gasoline prices during a trip
to Florida on Thursday.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined Wednesday to
comment on the Democrats' request, but he said the
administration continues to examine "every issue" when it comes
to higher oil and gas prices.
"We take no possible response off the table," Carney told
SHORT TERM FIX
High fuel prices have provided ammunition for Republican
critiques of Obama's energy policies.
Last summer, the Obama administration joined other Western
nations to release a total of 60 million barrels of oil in
response to supply disruptions in Libya.
Oil prices fell 8 percent in the days following the
announcement of that release and Democratic lawmakers said the
White House should consider taking similar action now to send a
message to Iran that the U.S. is willing to use its emergency
The use of the U.S. oil stockpile is often a matter of
contentious debate when gasoline prices rise.
Traditionally, Republicans have argued that oil reserves
should only be released in the event of a major supply
disruption and not to address climbing prices.
Leading Republicans assailed the White House last year for
tapping the reserves, accusing the administration of playing
politics with the nation's energy security.
While releasing emergency oil may help alleviate prices in
the short term, the House Democrats said developing cleaner
energy sources would be the ultimate solution.
The lawmakers also said the government needs to "carefully
review" the practices of allowing oil companies to export oil
products that come from oil produced on public lands.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alden