House Agriculture chairman: No 'downside' to crude oil exports
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House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-Texas) is pushing to allow U.S. crude oil exports, saying he finds no "downside" to lifting the decades old ban.

"Crude oil is the only commodity that we can't export, yet we import unlimited quantities," Conaway said at a hearing Wednesday before his committee. "This is important on every level and I don't see any downside."

Energy executives testified in favor of lifting the ban and said refineries are ready to handle the lighter crude produced domestically. Lifting the export ban would encourage production.

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"A lot of refineries today are at risk because they can't get light, sweet crude," said Harold Hamm, chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Energy, an Oklahoma-based company. 

"Most of the crude oil would go to South Korea, western Europe and South America," he added. "I don’t see a lot of trade happening in China."

Hamm also suggested that domestic refiners are under threat from new EPA regulations on air quality. Increased demand for oil both domestically and worldwide would help them turn around, he said.

"Lifting the ban would certainly help to quickly turn it around, but working with the EPA to build new refineries needs to be done," Hamm said.

Federal officials, though, cautioned that lifting the export ban could have negative impacts on the environment.

"This could lead to incrementally more injuries or environmental damage," said Frank Rusco, director for natural resources and environment at the Government Accountability Office.

He cited harm to surface groundwater quality, increased greenhouse gas emissions and the increased risk of spills from transporting crude oil.

But Rusco acknowledged economic benefits as well.

"It will likely cause consumer prices to fall or remain unchanged," Rusco said. "It should stimulate economic activity, especially in rural areas."

"Production would increase, gas prices would be lower, and it would enhance free trade," added Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter.

In written testimony, he cited an energy study that found that "for every energy job created in oil production, three jobs are created in the supply chain and six more in the broader economy."