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Energy Secretary: time to revisit US ban on crude exports [updated]


The US might reconsider its ban on crude oil exports. Speaking at the Platts Global Energy Outlook Forum in New York on Thursday, Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz explained that export ban dates from a period of oil embargoes and supply disruptions from the 1970s.

"Those restrictions on exports were born, as was the Department of Energy and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, on oil disruptions. There are lots of issues in the energy space that deserve some new analysis and examination in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s," said Moniz.

These remarks echo the growing calls from industry to open up American crude oil to the global oil market.

From an energy security perspective, lifting the export ban could give the US another knob to twist in reaction to supply disruptions or unrest abroad (think Syria, Libya, etc) or flexibility to soften the impacts from cutbacks in Saudi Arabia's production.

Blake Clayton, an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that lifting the ban would be good for the US economy:

Crude oil exports could generate upward of $15 billion a year in revenue by 2017 at today's prices, according to industry estimates. Those gains would be partially offset by displacing some refined product exports, however. Today's export restrictions run the risk of dampening U.S. crude oil production over time by forcing down prices at the wellhead in some parts of the country. Letting drillers reap extra profits from selling crude oil overseas, if the market dictates, would provide greater incentives for drilling, stimulating new supply. It would also encourage investment in oil and gas production in the United States rather than abroad. In oil-producing regions, more workers would be hired for oil exploration and production, as well as for local service industries.

Taken together with natural gas, the US is awash in domestic fossil fuels that are largely stranded in North America, and is now in a position to reconsider its scarcity-based energy policies.

UPDATE #1: looks like Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to take up the debate on the export ban (via The Hill):

Murkowski plans to release a white paper on the pros and cons of opening the country's export policy on crude, one of her top aides told The Hill.

"Sen. Murkowski believes the debate on energy exports is coming sooner rather than later," said Robert Dillon, an aide to the senator, who sits on the chamber's Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"The debate has been centered on natural gas, and she wants to switch it to oil."

"It is another opportunity for our country economically, and certainly her position will become clear" when the report is released," Dillon added.

UPDATE #2: Some clarifying statements from DOE.

DOE Press Secretary Bill Gibbons: "As the Secretary made clear, this is an issue under the purview of the Department of Commerce, not the Department of Energy."

And a clarifying statement on background of the Secretary's statements from a DOE rep via email: "More broadly, the Secretary was simply referring to how the energy landscape of today is substantially different from the 1970's in the wake of the oil embargo. The Secretary was responding to a question as to why natural gas and oil are treated differently with respect to exports, and he also noted that the history of natural gas and oil are very different."

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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