Congress is reportedly considering overturning laws banning US Oil Producers from exporting Crude. The law originally went into place in the 1970’s largely in reaction to embargoes that raised “scarcity” concerns – essentially, blocking export is supposed to safeguard from scarcity in domestic supply. This is timely on their part – as we have seen for the first time since 1995, US Crude production has exceeded imports. What do they have to do with each other? In the absence of an export potential, or at least one not slowed and more expensive due to refining, US crude production will hit a plateau or worse. But why?
Refined oil (gasoline and diesel) can be exported under current US law, and exports have grown substantially in recent years. The issue is, however, that the shale oil boom is producing huge volumes of light crude. In order to export, these huge amounts of crude need to be refined, which is difficult, costly and will ultimately slow production over time. The Council on Foreign Relations sums the issue up nicely in the following quote:
“Restrictions on crude oil exports are already beginning to undermine the efficiency of US oil economy. Much of the country’s rapidly growing production of light crude oil… comes from either areas where refiners are not interested in or able to process it, given that many US refineries are configured to run on lower-quality crude oil, or in parts of the country with inadequate transportation infrastructure. With few viable domestic buyers, producers are forced to choose between leaving oil in the ground and pumping it at depressed prices. The artificially low prices slow additional US Crude production. New refineries currently under construction will help remedy some of these market distortions over time, but a simpler, more cost effective solution would include allowing US Crude to be exported”
(CFR Policy Innovation Memorandum No. 34 – you can read the whole thing by clicking here )
The CFR also estimates that Crude Oil exports could generate upward of $15 billion in annual revenue by 2017. Revenue to be made from export should also serve to stimulate continued investment in infrastructure, move technology forward, increase profitability for domestically based producers, not to mention create thousands of permanent, high paying jobs for Americans.
Before we assume it’s a cut and dry decision however, there are several compelling arguments against dropping restrictions on Crude export, from economic concerns to environmental ones. Since this is a big and somewhat complex topic however, I will address them in subsequent posts.
What are your intial thoughts on US crude export policy? Do you favor a change?