Domestic producers could not fill the gap if Iraq cut off the 720,000 barrels of oil the United States imports each day from Iraq and Kuwait, experts say.
``A lot of us have been talking for 10 years that we have a very shortsighted policy,'' said Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Texas.
``We've abandoned conservation. We've abandoned development of our own resources. We're very vulnerable. As a result we're going to get to pay a lot more money.''
Iraq won't cut off the oil supply, but will charge more and other Middle Eastern countries will follow suit, Wilson predicted.
That could help domestic producers. Thousands have left the industry since the mid-1980s when crude prices dropped and the government imposed greater restrictions on drilling sites.
``We've allowed our energy capabilities to deteriorate to the point that our economy can be seriously hurt by the power-seeking actions of a Middle-Eastern warlord,'' Houston oilman George Mitchell said, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Members of Congress expressed concern Hussein may try to invade nearby Saudi Arabia next. If Iraq did that, it would control 25 percent of the oil the United States imports.
``Together with our friends in the region, we should consider defensive military measures that might be needed to guard against any further Iraqi aggression,'' said Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas.
Sen. David Boren, the Oklahoma Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said an Iraqi assault on Saudi Arabia ``would be a direct threat to the security of this country.''
``This is a very dangerous time for America,'' said Rep. Mike Andrews, D-Houston.
``I think American consumers are going to be asking why are we so dependent on some very unstable countries so very far away,'' said Rep. Jack Fields, R-Humble.
Iraq's invasion came two weeks after the American Petroleum Institute announced the United States relied more than ever on oil imports during the first six months of the year.
Representatives of oil groups said they have repeatedly told Congress and the administration that because the nation has grown so reliant on foreign oil, it could be imperiled by instability in the Middle East. …