Energy Secretary Chu: Growing Unrest in the Middle East Could Disrupt American Oil Market

Masked Egyptian demonstrators holds their national flag as they stand next to a burning riot police vehicle in Cairo on January 28, 2011. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

Masked Egyptian demonstrators holds their national flag as they stand next to a burning riot police vehicle in Cairo on January 28, 2011.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

In remarks to reporters on Friday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu voiced concern about the potential impact of the growing unrest in the Arab world on energy supplies and prices.

"Certainly any disruption in the Middle East means a partial disruption in the oil we import," Chu said. "It's a world market and that (a disruption) could actually have real harm of the price."

Crude oil prices have already surged in the wake of the trouble in Egypt and concerns that the Cairo chaos could spread to major oil-producing nations.

Egypt's Suez Canal is another source of energy security concern.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports petroleum accounts for 16 percent of the cargos flowing through the canal that connects the Red Sea and Gulf of Suez with the Mediterranean Sea. The canal is on the agency's list of "world transit choke points."

Like so many previous energy secretaries, Chu said, " The best way America can protect itself against these incidents is to decrease our dependency on foreign oil, in fact to diversify our supply."

While Egypt is not a major supplier of oil to the U.S., there are obvious concerns about the impact that spreading unrest in the region could have on oil-producing countries.

"We watch these things very closely," Chu said.

Chu commented during a conference call to discuss the administration's long range energy proposals.

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    Peter Maer is a CBS News White House Correspondent.

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