WASHINGTON -- President Bush is ready ''to do whatever it takes," including, if necessary, tapping government stocks of heating oil to counter supply shortages this winter, his energy secretary said yesterday.
Samuel Bodman said hurricanes Katrina and Rita have dealt ''a very significant blow" to the country's energy infrastructure, with almost all of the Gulf Coast's oil production, nearly 80 percent of the region's natural gas supplies, and a fifth of the country's refining capacity still shut down.
Bodman said the president will consider a decision to release additional government stocks of crude oil, or for the first time tap the government's Northeast heating oil reserve.
''We are prepared to do what is necessary with regards to the strategic reserves," Bodman said, adding the president has indicated ''he is prepared to do whatever it takes" to meet supply needs.
''We've had a very severe pair of episodes, they have damaged the [energy] infrastructure," Bodman said at a news conference held with the Alliance to Save Energy, a private energy conservation group.
Bodman said the country can expect to face high heating oil and natural gas prices this winter.
But he added, with conservation ''we can be successful in minimizing the pain caused by high energy prices this winter."
Congress five years ago created a 2 million-barrel Northeast heating oil reserve that is to be used in case of supply shortages or delivery problems in nine states from Maine to Pennsylvania.