By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Jan 7 (Reuters) - The top Republican on the
Senate Energy Committee on Tuesday urged an end to a decades-old
U.S. ban on exporting crude oil, saying it will disrupt supply
and discourage U.S. production rather than keep domestic
gasoline prices stable.
Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, at an event at the Brookings
Institute in Washington, professed her support for easing
restrictions on crude oil exports as the United States reaches
record levels of production.
Murkowski, whose state is alone among U.S. states because it
can already export crude oil, released a report aimed at
triggering debate among lawmakers over whether the United States
should ease the restrictions.
While the United States can export crude oil products such
as gasoline and diesel, the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the
Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Act require a presidential
waiver to sell most unrefined crude oil abroad. This effectively
bars exports for now.
"To the extent that the crude oil export ban contributes to
supply disruptions and decelerating oil production (which
affects employment), then the American consumer will suffer the
consequences," Murkowski said.
She said the administration should be able to use its
authority to lift the existing ban on crude oil because it many
not be possible to economically refine the glut of light sweet
crude oil being produced, and this could qualify for a waiver.
As the debate gains momentum, some oil refining companies
are coming out against unfettered crude exports.
"Valero does not support changes to the nation's crude oil
export policy," said Bill Day, a spokesman for Valero Energy
Corp. "It makes more sense to keep crude oil here in the
U.S., where it can be refined into value-added products for
domestic and export use."
Murkowski told reporters that if the export policy is
changed refiners "are going to have to deal with it ... My
interest is not to protect the refineries' bottom line."
"We can do more to increase refining capacity. We have seen
those adjustments or reconfiguration within our refineries to
accommodate LTO (light tight oil) but I do think we get to a
point where it is this mismatch, where we are not able to gain
alignment," she said.
The senator does not plan to launch comprehensive
legislation on the topic - in part because 2014, an election
year, might not yield much action in Congress - but did not rule
out a "small, targeted bill to move the ball forward."
She added that if the White House disagrees and chooses to
maintain the ban, "then the Senate should update the law to
reflect 21st-century conditions."
Asked on Tuesday if the White House has a view on the issue,
spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment.
The issue of whether the United States should export crude
oil is shaping up to be among the biggest energy debates of
U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz raised eyebrows last
month when he said this and other energy policies, crafted
during an era of scarcity, should be revisited.
Recent editorials in the Washington Post and Wall Street
Journal, among others, have called for an end to the ban.
The American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying group for the
oil industry, renewed its call for lifting the ban at an event
"What we should also look it is how we bring more of this
vast domestic supply to the global marketplace. The free market
is the best factor to determine price and supply and demand
equations. The worst thing for the government to do today is to
distort the marketplace," said API President Jack Gerard.
U.S. policy "should not be bound by past practices or the
visions of the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s," he said. "It's a
DAZZLE THEM WITH FACTS
Murkowski does not yet have plans to introduce legislation
to lift the ban or to hold specific hearings on it but wants to
win over other senators with facts, spokesman Robert Dillon
Murkowski's Democratic counterpart on the Senate Energy
Committee, Ron Wyden, is due to leave his post to take over the
reins of the Senate Finance Committee.
Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, senator for a state that is a
major energy hub, is expected to take Wyden's place and could be
more receptive to discussions on boosting exports.
Landrieu recently told the National Journal that she "would
support lifting the (crude oil export) ban if the scientific
data shows we should. And I think that is what the data is
At least some Democratic senators, though, have already
expressed opposition to any relaxation of the crude oil export
ban, including Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Ed Markey of
The Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank,
blasted Murkowski's comments on Tuesday, saying advocates for
exports assume domestic production will grow endlessly.
"We are a long way from true energy security, and we should
retain this domestically produced, strategic commodity until
then. Allowing oil exports now would be like celebrating a
victory at half time," said Daniel Weiss, director of climate
strategy at CAP.
John Podesta, co-founder of CAP and a former White House
Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton, recently started work as an
Obama adviser and is expected to focus on energy and