WASHINGTON (AFX) – The White House said it is keeping a close watch on the nation’s energy supplies after a key lawmaker called on the Bush administration to consider tapping emergency oil reserves to reduce the impact of current shortages.

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan, who declined more detailed comment on Republican Congressman Billy Tauzin’s written appeal to energy secretary Spencer Abraham.

In a letter to Mr Abraham, Mr Tauzin said the ongoing economic “crisis” in Venezuela is having a “more pronounced” effect on the economy of the world’s largest oil importer, the US.

“Venezuela’s oil output has fallen from approximately 3 million barrels per day in November to less than 300,000 barrels per day recently, causing supply constraints at (US) Gulf coast refineries,” he said in the letter to the energy secretary.

“The situation is acute,” Mr Tauzin, who is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said adding “at least two of those refineries, which account for approximately 10 percent of the market for refined products, will run out of crude by the end of the month.”

Earlier, some major oil refiners said they had spoken to the US government about tapping into the reserves.

The government has said it is keeping its reserves of emergency oil, much of it stored in salt caverns along the Texas and Louisiana coastlines, locked up for now.

The Department of Energy said in a statement December 17 that doing so “is not an active consideration.”

The US strategic petroleum reserve is at a 25-year high of 598.7 million barrels. President Bush announced plans in November 2001 to build the reserve to its full capacity: 700 million barrels.