|The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be drilled under the proposal [EPA]
George Bush, the US president, has called on the US congress to end its ban on offshore oil drilling and open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration.
He said congressional restrictions in place since 1981 had become "outdated and counterproductive" after global oil prices rose to their highest ever levels.
"Congress must face a hard reality. Unless members are willing to accept gas prices at today's painful levels or even higher, our nation must produce more oil, and we must start now," Bush said.
Bush, speaking at the White House on Wednesday, also called for an end to the ban on oil shale drilling and for the US to build more oil refineries.
Global crude oil prices have risen to nearly 140 dollars a barrel, and US petrol prices now average more than four dollars a gallon, a rise of one dollar from a year ago.
Under the 1981 federal ban, states are prohibited from allowing offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration, protecting almost the entire Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and sections of
the Gulf of Mexico.
Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan said environmentalists were likely to be outraged by Bush's proposal.
Bush also said America's dependence on oil imports in recent decades was an economic and security risk.
"Some of that energy comes from unstable regions and unfriendly regimes. This makes us more vulnerable to supply shocks and price spikes beyond our control, and that puts both our economy and our security at risk," he said.
Republicans had repeatedly called for an end to the ban, but Democrats have repeatedly rejected them, citing environmental concerns.
In Houston on Tuesday, McCain called for lifting the federal ban on offshore exploration and production as part of a plan to help restrict US dependence on foreign oil.
McCain has proposed temporarily lifting a tax on petrol over the summer to give consumers a break from soaring fuel prices.
A spokesman for Harry Reid, the Democrat leader of the senate, said lifting the offshore drilling ban would have little immediate impact on US access to oil.
"The Energy Information Administration says that even if we open the coasts to oil drilling, that won't have a significant impact on prices until 2030," Jim Manley said on Tuesday.
Source: Al Jazeera and agenices