As the Paris climate talks continue, President Obama has repeatedly made clear his belief that no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. The president and his administration have attempted to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by limiting domestic oil and gas production on federal lands, continuing the 40-year-old crude oil export ban (presumably to decrease oil consumption worldwide) and imposing regulations on the U.S. oil and gas exploration industry, designed to restrict U.S. oil production. This, while the president’s Iran agreement allows Iran to increase their oil production by 2 million barrels per day by 2021 and gives them access to new global markets. If Obama wants to lower GHG emissions and simultaneously address that which most Americans think is the greatest threat – terrorism - he should allow Americans to explore for and export oil.
Unlike Iran, the U.S. has a long-standing commitment to conservation. America leads the world in both emissions reductions and production of oil and natural gas due to industry investment and advanced technology. While pushing the Iran deal, Obama failed to mention that Iran does not share our commitment to reducing emissions from oil production. The International Council on Clean Transportation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace determined that Iran emits almost three times the GHG per barrel during production of crude oil than that of U.S. producers in the Gulf of Mexico. Major oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico emit 0.031 and 0.034 metric tons of CO2 equivalents, a measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, per barrel while Iranian oil fields emit 0.070 to 0.099 metric tons of CO2 equivalents per barrel. If this seems small, understand that if Iran increases oil production by 2 million barrels per day due to a vacuum the U.S. leaves in the market, they will emit 100,000 metric tons more of CO2 equivalents per day. In a real sense, either the U.S. or Iran will supply oil to the international oil market. If it is the U.S., less GHG is emitted, if Iran, more GHG is emitted.
Despite this, less than one month after the president gave Iran access to export oil, he issued a threat to veto legislation that would allow U.S. oil exports. Both Republicans and Democrats support lifting the current crude oil export ban. Put in place in 1975, it’s an outdated policy that denies American companies access to the global oil market. It also denies jobs and economic growth to Americans and the American economy.
According to the Aspen Institute, if the crude oil export ban was lifted, domestic crude oil production could increase by 3.25 million barrels per day by 2025. GDP would increase by $165 billion in peak exploration and development years (2019-2021), continuing at $141 billion per year in 2025. As 20 percent of GDP is typically paid in taxes to the federal government, this is $33 billion per year towards domestic needs, such as paying down debt and financing defense and security. Related to this, a total of 630,000 jobs would be added at the peak in 2019. Americans’ household income would increase by $2,000 to $3,000 in 2025. Conversely, the Iranian Central Bank predicted that increasing Iranian oil production and lifting the sanctions could mean their growth rate will increase to 5 percent. This is the same economy that finances terrorism throughout the Middle East and continuously undermines the stability of its regional neighbors, including Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Whichever country fills the international need for oil will advance their country’s goals. It should be the U.S.
Despite the lower GHG emissions and the economic and security benefits of increased domestic energy production, the Obama administration has slowed energy production on federal lands and closed off areas of exploration and development of offshore oil. The Obama administration’s draft five-year plan for 2017-2022 lists 14 lease sales - the lowest number in the 42-year history of the planning process. Currently, the administration’s five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan, which took effect on August 27, 2012, removed 1.42 billion acres of the 1.65 billion acres of available OCS lands—87 percent—and blocked any new oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coast.
Bottom line, if American oil is exported, the demand for Iranian oil will decrease. This will result in tons less GHG emissions, more income for American workers, an increase in the U.S. GDP and a focus on American priorities. If American oil is not exported, these benefits will be seen by Iran.
If Obama really believes that no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change, and if he is willing to acknowledge that most Americans feel that terrorism poses at least an equally serious threat, he should support exploring for and exporting American oil.
Cassidy is Louisiana’s junior senator, serving since 2015. He sits on the Appropriations; the Energy and Natural Resources; the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and the Veterans’ Affairs committees.