Energy & Environment

Senators push to lift crude oil export ban

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) have introduced a bill to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports. 

The bill would fulfill one of Murkowski’s biggest energy priorities and allow American oil companies to export crude oil as they do petroleum products. It would also allow exports of condensate, a type of light crude oil.

“America’s energy landscape has changed dramatically since the export ban was put in place in the 1970s. We have moved from energy scarcity to energy abundance. Unfortunately, our energy policies have not kept pace,” Murkowski, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. 

“This legislation builds from bipartisan ideas, linking energy security and infrastructure to expanding exports and helping our allies. Our nation has an opportunity to embrace its role as a global energy powerhouse, sending a signal to the world that we are open for business and will stand by our friends in need.”

Eleven Republicans have co-sponsored the bill, but Heitkamp is the only Democrat to sign on so far. She said Wednesday that she hopes to find more at some point. 

“We’re looking very closely at a path forward, very excited about the opportunity,” she said in a short interview. “We keep building out bipartisan support, and so, good news.” 

The oil industry cheered the move on Wednesday. 

“This bill will unlock America’s energy potential and help U.S. energy production to stay competitive in a difficult market,” American Petroleum Institute Executive Vice President Louis Finkel said in a statement. “The benefits are clear, and members of Congress in both the House and Senate have shown they are ready to act in a bipartisan way to support free trade.”

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) called the bill “ critical for U.S. energy security, economic growth, increased investment in free trade, and new American jobs.”

“Much like the export of gasoline and diesel fuels from American refineries now helps keep refining jobs in America, oil exports will enable the U.S. to invest in more American shale crude development and keep those good jobs here,” IPAA and a handful of other oil interests wrote in a letter to Murkowski and Heitkamp.

Lifting the ban has been a top priority for Murkowski and other Republicans, who have pitched the measure as a boon for the oil industry, a win for consumers and a national security and diplomacy issue.

Democrats have met the move with hesitancy, worrying that exporting more crude oil could lead to higher costs for consumers in the United States.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Murkowski’s Democratic counterpart on the Energy panel, has often asked the Energy Information Administration to study the impact it would have on gasoline prices in the United States.

“Lower oil prices act like a tax cut for the vast majority of Americans.  No one wants to see the price at the pump go up,” she said at a March hearing on the export ban. “I would rather have Americans get their own fiscal house in order, versus paying more at the pump for their transportation needs.”

Green groups say lifting the ban — and the increased oil production associated with it — would have dire environmental impacts. 

“Repealing the ban would open the floodgates to more crude oil extraction and the burning of petroleum products, which would worsen the impacts of climate disruption,” Friends of the Earth Oceans and Vessels Program Director Marcie Keever said in a Wednesday statement.

Athan Manual, the  director of the Lands Protection Program at the Sierra Club, said his biggest concern is how increased oil consumption around the world will impact climate change.

“We don’t think we should be exporting global warming, basically, to other countries,” he said. “We think all the countries in the world should do what the U.S. is doing and dramatically reduce their use of fossil fuels, especially oil, to fight climate change.”

Murkowski said Wednesday she’s still trying to find a way to pass the measure through the Senate. She said she should try attaching it to a broader energy bill, or it could up moving on its own.

“We’re going to work the legislative route,” she said. “I’m committed to trying to change this outdated policy as it relates to oil exports and the ban.”

—This post was updated at 3:03 p.m.

Tags American Petroleum Institute crude oil exports Heidi Heitkamp Lisa Murkowski oil
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