ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Friday he would back limited offshore drilling as part of a broader energy package that attempted to bring down gas prices and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
Obama dropped his blanket opposition to any expansion of offshore drilling and signaled support for a bipartisan compromise in Congress aimed at breaking a deadlock on energy that includes limited drilling.
“My interest is in making sure we’ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices,” Obama said in an interview with The Palm Beach Post during a tour of Florida.
“If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done,” Obama told the newspaper.
In a statement, Obama said he remained skeptical of the value of expanded offshore drilling in fighting rising gas prices. He has said he prefers oil companies to use the land already available.
Obama and White House rival Republican John McCain have battled sharply over the issue of offshore drilling, with McCain backing efforts to open new areas to drilling and Obama opposed.
Public opinion polls show a majority of the public supports expanded drilling to try to battle rising gas prices.
Obama endorsed the efforts of a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators who unveiled legislation on Friday to increase domestic oil production and expand conservation and efforts to develop alternative energy.
The bill would require the government to open additional areas in the Gulf of Mexico for development and would allow drilling off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia if those states give permission.
A commission would be created to recommend areas to be opened for leasing in the future. Offshore production would still only be allowed 50 miles from the shore, and all the new oil produced would have to be used domestically.
“I welcome today’s bipartisan effort as an important step in the process of reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil,” Obama said in a statement.
“I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term, though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact,” he said.
Editing by Chris Wilson