LAS VEGAS - Fending off critics who say his policies have stifled domestic energy production, President Obama today announced that his administration would open 38 million acres of oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.?
? At the first stop on the second day of his post-State of the Union tour , Obama defended his administration's efforts to open new areas for oil and gas exploration before a sedate crowd gathered outside at a UPS natural gas refueling station.?
?"Right now, American oil production is the highest that it's been in eight years - eight years. Last year we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the last 16 years. That hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but that's important," he said.?
? The White House's decision to sell the energy leases in the Gulf comes days after the president angered Republicans by rejecting the proposal for the cross-country Keystone pipeline that would have carried tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.?
?The president also encouraged greater use of natural gas in transportation and announced that a new highway corridor for vehicles running on liquefied natural gas was open for business.?
?"We've got to have an all-out, all-in, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every source of American energy, a strategy that is cleaner and cheaper and full of new jobs," he said.?
?Obama argued that developing natural gas could support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
"We, it turns out, are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas," he said.?
?As he did in Iowa and Arizona Wednesday , the president continued to hammer his State of the Union message and set the tone for his 2012 campaign. Today's event, however, lacked the public enthusiasm that was on display at the president's previous stops in the two battleground states.?
The president is visiting five swing states critical to the upcoming election during his three-day tour. The White House, however, continues to say the trip is official presidential business. ?