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Vol. 19, No. 23 Week of June 08, 2014
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Oil export ban knocked

IHS report finds ample cause to shift to a policy of free trade for US oil

Wesley Loy

For Petroleum News

A new report from IHS finds myriad reasons to dump the 1970s-era federal policy that generally bans export of crude oil produced in the United States.

Lifting the ban would help rising domestic oil production reach its full potential, create a multitude of jobs and lower gasoline prices for motorists, the report says.

IHS, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, is a global business information firm whose vice chairman is Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning energy author.

The report says the nation is facing a refining crunch that’s depressing the price for domestic oil and will constrain production growth.

Allowing exports could remedy this problem, the report says, and would do away with “one of the last vestiges of the panic-induced policies of the 1970s.” Those policies included government price controls on oil.

Murkowski concurs

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, welcomed the IHS report. She’s the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and has been an outspoken proponent for removing the export ban.

In January, Murkowski sent a letter to President Obama asking him to take that step. The Obama administration has hinted it’s interested in possibly loosening the export policy.

“The IHS analysis reinforces what I’ve been saying for months - modernizing the regulations that govern energy exports will create jobs, boost energy production, and help lower global oil and gasoline prices,” Murkowski said in a May 29 press release. “The current rules of engagement on energy trade were written at a time of energy scarcity, not abundance, and they are causing distortions in the market that is undervaluing America’s energy resources. It’s time to reverse a policy that has far outlived its usefulness - something that would benefit the entire country.”

The export ban was put in place during a time when the Arab oil embargo spooked car-crazed Americans.

Other incentives existed at that time for the ban, the IHS report says, including a feeling that the United States was running out of oil.

Another goal was to ensure that new North Slope oil coming through the trans-Alaska pipeline would not be shipped to Asia, the report says.

As it stands today, the oil export ban is not absolute. It has exceptions: Exports into Canada are allowed, and so are exports of Alaska crude. But most if not all North Slope crude is sent to West Coast refineries or used within the state.

Not everyone is eager to see the export ban go away. Some members of Congress still believe it is wiser to keep it in place. And some U.S. refiners also have signaled opposition to lifting the ban, as they are enjoying domestic crude that’s cheap compared to imported foreign oil.

The IHS report suggests, however, that lifting the ban would be a winner for practically all concerned. Among the report’s key findings:

•The export ban is creating “market distortions” as U.S. oil production expands. The new production is primarily light, sweet crude from tight or shale plays.

•The U.S. oil system is nearing “gridlock” due to a mismatch of the light oil with refineries, particularly on the Gulf of Mexico coast, geared to process heavy oil imported from countries such as Venezuela, Mexico and Canada. This mismatch is causing domestic oil to sell at a discount.

•With the ban lifted, U.S. production would increase from 8.2 million barrels per day currently to 11.2 million bpd in 2022. If the ban isn’t lifted, output will be significantly lower.

•By boosting global oil supplies, the elimination of the export ban will result in lower global oil prices. “Since U.S. gasoline is priced off global gasoline prices, not domestic crude prices, the reduction will flow back into lower prices at the pump - reducing the gasoline price 8 cents a gallon.”

•Higher U.S. oil production resulting from lifting the ban would create, at the peak, 1 million jobs and economic activity across all states.

“The United States currently is at the center of one of the most profound changes in the global oil industry since the 1970s,” the report says. “The decades-long decline in U.S. production has been reversed - and in dramatic fashion.”

Maximizing this “great revival” means the export ban should be reconsidered, the report says.

“U.S. crude oil export policy will have a major impact in determining whether the United States regains its position as the largest crude oil producer in the world and acts as a force for lower gasoline prices. Today, the United States is the third-largest crude oil producer, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia,” the report says. “The existing restrictive trade policy has reduced the price that U.S. producers receive for their crude oil relative to the global market. This is because they cannot sell their output outside the United States except under very limited circumstances.”

IHS lists a number of sponsors that provided support for the study. They include Baker Hughes, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Nabors, Pioneer Natural Resources, Whiting Petroleum and others.

The report is available online at

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