The issue of whether to permit crude oil exports is dragging on, and as with the Keystone XL permit issue the “indecision” lies solely with President Obama.  In recent hearings, Senators and Representatives from both parties have called for exports; there is near-unanimity among studies on the benefits of export – and headlines make clear that the current energy boom is driving new economic activity, and senior Administration officials have indicated that the policy will change; but the President has made no move.

And no decision is, in fact, a decision to keep a policy based on overreaction to the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973-1974.  That bad policy is slowing this nation’s already slow recovery from the Great Recession by curtailing job and economic growth nationally.  Eliminating the counter-productive export restrictions would further increase already-booming domestic crude oil production, lower gasoline prices and add as many a one million new jobs; it would also add to household income and government revenues.  Yet the decision awaits a decision-maker.


Since Obama took office, U.S. oil production has risen from about 7.1 million barrels per day (MMBD) to 10.8 MMBD.  U.S. natural gas production is up from 59.5 billion cubic feet per day (BCF/D) to 11BCFD.  Virtually none of that growth had to do with federal government actions – almost all the growth came on private lands.  But due in large part to that gigantic growth, the New York Times has reported that “since hitting bottom in 2010, manufacturers have added nearly 700,000 jobs, bringing total factory employment in the United States to 12.2 million.”  The story also cites a projection in a McKinsey study, of up to 1.7 million jobs nationally resulting from the great oil and gas development activity.

Each of those figures reflects huge growth and economic benefit, but the president’s dithering indecision on Keystone and exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) have serious fallout – they seem to signal Transportation Department regulators that it’s fine to take four or five years to deny or approve new oil and gas pipelines to move the massive new supplies.  Such inaction forces oil producers to buy more and more tank cars to move their crude, and slashes the efficiency and overall economic benefits to the nation, of the entire operation.

It also forces oil producers to burn off (flare) natural gas associated with crude oil production.  In reaction, more than one state has moved to slow the rate of flaring to protect the environment; that action also slows crude oil production – although both oil and gas production are projected to continue to rise strongly.

Recent studies or study updates by The Brookings Institution, the National Economic Research Associates (NERA) indicate that, as reflected above, allowing crude oil exports will boost US economic growth, wages, employment and GDP.  The earlier exports begin, the greater the benefits, with a range of $600 billion and $1.8 trillion for by 2039.  Further, exports will lower world (and U.S.) gasoline prices by $0.07 to $0.12 per gallon over the years 2015-2035.   The study also projected that OPEC will not cut back on its production to raise prices even with US exports rising from 2.8MMBD in 2015, rising to 5.7MMBD in 2035.

As I have written in the past, exports will enhance US global power; they will reinforce open markets, provide competition that slows Russian gas cutoffs to Europe, and help European and Asian nations by providing competitive prices for their economic growth.   Brookings and the NERA reflect the same findings.

So all serious studies, projections and logic indicate that the best policy for the US is to reverse the 1973 export ban and provide an atmosphere that benefits our nation and all our trading partners.  The pressure for such action continues to build.  All we need now is an appropriate answer from the White House.

Rafuse, former White House energy adviser during the Nixon administration and current principal of the Rafuse Organization, advises government agencies, policy centers, businesses and associations on energy, trade, sanctions, national security issues and their interrelationships.