Allowing crude oil to be exported would add thousands of jobs to energy-producing states, lower gasoline prices and incentivize enough domestic drilling to cut oil imports $67 billion annually, according to a pair of reports released Thursday.
The twin reports come as the Obama administration is considering revisions to the 39-year-old federal roadblocks that effectively ban crude oil exports, a response to a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom that has unlocked light, sweet crude that producers say U.S. refineries aren't equipped to handle.
Doing so would spur $746 billion of investments between 2016 and 2030, adding 1.2 million barrels of oil production per day and reducing gasoline prices 8 cents per gallon annually, according to a report by economic consulting firm IHS. A separate report by ICF International, produced for the American Petroleum Institute, said 18 states each would add more than 5,000 jobs in 2020, with Texas leading at about 41,000 jobs.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking at an energy conference in South Korea this month, cited the refinery mismatch as the reason for the assessment. Gulf Coast refineries are designed to handle heavier crude from abroad, and it's often not economical for them to take the lighter varieties coming from the Bakken shale formation in Montana and North Dakota. Dan Utech, President Obama's top climate and energy adviser, said much of the same in an interview earlier this month.
Booming oil production has given rise to the fresh policy debate surrounding the export ban. Oil production hit 7.4 million barrels per day last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and is projected to hit 8.4 million barrels per day this year. Currently the second-largest oil producer, the U.S. could be the top world oil producer by 2020, according to the International Energy Agency.
But ending the restriction would face some resistance from a handful of independent refiners — those that are separate from oil-producing companies — that have benefited from a spike in refined petroleum product exports, and some critics say allowing exports would raise gasoline prices. And Republicans, typically allies of the oil and gas industry, are split on the issue as well, citing concerns about energy security.
Some independent refiners have banded together to oppose changes to the restrictions, which currently allow a trickle of crude oil exports to Canada. Four of them in March formed Consumers and Refiners United for Domestic Energy, or CRUDE, to lobby against removing the restrictions. Refiners such as Valero Energy also have pushed to maintain the policy.
After averaging exports of 750,000 barrels per day throughout the 1990s, exports of refined petroleum products "have grown sharply" since 2006, hitting 2.8 million barrels per day last year, according to a White House report released Thursday. That's largely a result of the U.S. oil boom reducing domestic prices, in turn making refined products more attractive abroad.
But Kyle Isakower, vice president of economic and regulatory policy with the American Petroleum Institute, said ending restraints on crude oil exports was an economic winner, and noted that larger, integrated refiners were on board.
"There will be a little bit of a squeezing from those refiners who are purchasing domestic crude," he said during a call with reporters. "Does that mean refiners might have to accept a smaller margin? Yes, it does."
In a nod to the IHS report — which was backed by oil and gas companies such as Continental Resources, Chevron and ExxonMobil — Isakower said API and others in the industry planned to confront the perception that exports would raise prices.
"This is really an educational effort," Isakower said. "Many people see exports and look at it very narrowly and assume that prices are going to increase at the pump."