With oil prices hovering around $55 a barrel and the US more dependent than ever on foreign supplies to meet its energy needs, Bush called on lawmakers to allow oil and natural gas exploration in "a small corner" of Alaska's environmentally sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

"Congress needs to look at the science and look at the facts and send me a bill that includes exploration in ANWR for the sake of our country," he said in a speech on energy policy on Wednes-day.
   

Environmentalists oppose drilling in ANWR, saying it would destroy the habitat of the area's polar bears, caribou and other wildlife.
   

Democrats and some moderate Republicans in the US Senate also oppose such drilling and say more emphasis ought to be placed on energy conservation and exploration of new technology to help quench America's thirst for oil.
   

However, Bush rejected the idea that ANWR exploration and environmental protection were incompatible, calling it a "false choice". 
   

Foreign dependence

 

The US president said drilling in the 19 million-acre Arctic refuge would be carried out on a parcel of land "the size of the Columbus airport", with almost no impact on land or wildlife.
   

The United States is the world's
largest oil consumer 

"We need to work together in Washington," he said. "We have had four years of debate ... now is the time to get the job done."

 

The United States imports more than half its oil from abroad. According to the Energy Department, that amounted to 11.8 million barrels of crude oil a day last year, with 2.4 million barrels a day coming from the Arabian Gulf.
   

"Think about that," Bush said. "More than half of the oil that we consume in order to maintain our lifestyles comes from overseas or abroad and our dependence is growing.
   

"I believe that creates a national security issue and an economic security issue for the United States, and that's why its important for us to utilise the resources we have here at home."
   

Giving oil companies access to ANWR's potential 16 billion barrels of crude is a key part of Bush's overall energy plan, but the Senate has rejected multiple attempts to open it to drilling.

 

Energy plan

 

But with 55 Republican senators - four more than in the last Congress - some lawmakers are hopeful about getting it through.

"Higher prices at the gas pump and rising home heating bills and the possibility of blackout are legitimate concerns for all Americans. It's hard to plan with confidence if you're not sure the lights are going to stay on"

President Bush

In a show of confidence that it will win the battle, the White House included in its 2006 budget $2.4 billion in fees it expects the Interior Department to collect from leasing land in the refuge for oil drilling.
   

Bush sent Congress a national energy plan four years ago he said would increase domestic crude oil and natural gas supplies, modernise the electric grid, build more nuclear-power plants, develop alterative energy sources and promote conservation.
   

The federal government has predicted retail petrol prices this spring will hit a record high - reaching a national monthly average of $2.15 a gallon (57 cents a litre) - on the heels of soaring crude oil prices.
   

Bush called the extra cost to consumers "a drag on the economy".
   

"Higher prices at the gas pump and rising home heating bills and the possibility of blackout are legitimate concerns for all Americans," he said.

 

"It's hard to plan with confidence if you're not sure the lights are going to stay on."