Policy: Environment & Energy

Allowing crude oil exports will benefit Americans

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Energy and Environment,Oil,Oil Exports,Trade

President Obama and his energy team are testing the waters on crude oil exports.

With statements like, “it is under consideration” and “the nature of the oil we’re producing may not be well matched to our current refinery capacity,” they very much appear to be on the right track.

The reality is that the oil the U.S. produces does not match its refining capacity, and the reason the administration is testing the waters is because overturning the 40-year ban on exports would bring American voters the lower gasoline prices, more jobs and stable global environment that they want. Updating an old policy can be a hard slog, but this is one worth pursuing.

For American consumers, there is no question: Technological advancements mean better products, updated policies and enhanced benefits to daily lives. A recent IHS study outlined specific benefits, estimating that “lifting the ban would support an average of 394,000 new jobs annually and reduce gasoline prices by an annual average of 8 cents per gallon.”

When it comes to energy, we've come a long way from original drilling techniques. By updating energy-related technology -- such as high-tech metallurgy, horizontal drilling and geophysical tools like gamma ray and resistivity meters - we have enabled the U.S. to reach abundant energy resources and reap huge economic benefits.

Policy developments have to catch up with these new realities. This means an update to the outdated ban on crude energy exports. Modernizing energy export policies will improve America’s energy security as well as that of its citizens.

The export ban of 1975 was implemented in response to the oil embargo of 1973 and in an era of scarce resources, steadily rising oil demand and increasing oil import dependence. All three of these factors have changed dramatically. Consumer response to the embargo lacked a sufficient demand or supply response therefore the only pressure relief valve was price. As a result, during the 1970s, the United States and other large oil-consuming nations suffered through recessions while petroleum-exporting countries benefited from the quadrupling of crude oil prices.

During the past five years, there has been a large shift. The U.S. energy sector is now a leading contributor to job growth domestically. As a result of our energy boom, the U.S. will soon replace Russia as the world's largest oil and gas producer. Continuing this trend will require policies that support investments in U.S. oil and natural gas output. More supply on the global market adds diversity of supply and a cushion against disrupted supply in places like Iran and Libya. Increased supply could put downward pressure on energy prices and undermine the power of our adversaries.

Among the 10 things you should know about oil exports recently cited by my colleagues at CSIS are lower domestic prices due to stable supplies and fewer price spikes that will result from global spare capacity. The list also highlights the importance of free trade for crude oil -- not just refined oil.

The reality is that many of America’s refineries need imported oil to operate most efficiently because they are built to refine lower-cost heavy crude produced in other countries. The vast majority of newly produced oil in the United States is high-quality, high-value light oil that would contribute to economic efficiently and the U.S. balance of trade by being exported.

Continuing the ban on crude oil exports will ultimately lead to less investment in U.S. oil production and harm our energy security and global oil market diversity. Such an approach will not improve the nation's economics or security. What will support American jobs and energy security is permitting domestically produced light oil, which is surplus to domestic demand, to be exported.

Improving the trade balance in this way benefits Americans. From a purely volumetric perspective, making additional barrels available to global oil markets anywhere in the world is good for consumers. New supplies increase competition, putting downward pressure on prices. Crude oil costs account for the greatest proportion of gasoline prices, so, all things being equal, a reduction in crude costs should lower price, not the reverse.

Crude oil exports will add a cushion to mitigate disruptions within the global market, supporting lower prices at home for U.S. citizens and increased energy security.

It's time for the president and Congress to also move out of the 1970s and modernize our energy policies to allow crude exports to benefit Americans.

Guy Caruso is currently a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic International Studies and a former administrator for the Energy Information Administration.

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