EIA: US to produce mainly light oil

Oil produced in the United States in coming years will mainly consist of a lighter crude than refiners are built to use, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, a mismatch that might could make oil exports more attractive.

The report found that nearly all of the growth in domestic oil production in recent years comes from light crude oil. Light oil can be used in some refineries, but major facility investments since the 1990s have retooled refineries to use heavier crude.

Light crude refers to oil with a gravity of 40 or above on the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) standards.

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“Roughly 96 percent of the 1.8 million bbl/d growth in production between 2011 and 2013 consisted of sweet grades with API gravity of 40 or above,” the EIA wrote in its Friday report.

“More than 60 percent of EIA’s forecast of production growth for 2014 and 2015 consists of sweet grades with API gravity of 40 or above,” the agency said.

The EIA’s research came as some lawmakers are calling for a loosening of the 1970s-era law that prohibits crude oil exports. The Obama administration has shown a willingness recently to taking its own actions to loosen restrictions.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top lawmakers on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had asked the EIA to conduct research that could help Congress decide whether to repeal the export ban.

“The growing mismatch between the type of oil that is increasingly being produced in the middle of the country and our ability to refine it is causing distortions in the market,” Murkowski said in a Friday statement. “Lifting the export ban will spur domestic production and inject much-needed investment in the U.S. economy.”

Murkowski said she identified a similar mismatch between the oil produced domestically and the oil needed in a January white paper. 

A report earlier this week from IHS Inc. found that lifting the export ban would create jobs and cut fuel prices.