The United States remains, despite a surge in domestic production, a major net importer of crude oil. And some exports are already permitted. Although the existing restrictions are often called a ban, the Energy Information Administration says that in July the United States exported 492,000 barrels a day to Canada and 526,000 barrels a day overall. Additional exports will be offset with additional imports.
Most of the oil industry has argued that exporting certain amounts of light crude oil and importing heavier grades would improve efficiency by matching different grades of crude oil with the refineries best capable of processing them.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act so that instead of requiring companies to get federal permission to export crude oil, it "prohibits any federal official from imposing or enforcing any restriction on the export of crude oil."
Limits on exports date to the 1970s Arab oil embargo, and many lawmakers remain uneasy about tampering with it. Environmental groups have also weighed in against lifting the limits. "Ending this ban is bad for our environment and our wallets," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. "But, Congress has once again shown that it would rather do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry than listen to the overwhelming majority of Americans who support the crude oil export ban."
The federal Energy Information Administration has said that lifting crude export restrictions would have little to no impact on average retail gasoline prices, though prices historically vary slightly from region to region. The restrictions probably lower the price of most domestic crude and increase slightly the price of imported crude oil, analysts say.
Most of the nation's refineries oppose lifting the restrictions on crude-oil exports because the limits have lowered the price of the light grades of domestic crude oil most commonly used in those facilities. Some of that oil travels by rail from North Dakota's Bakken basin to relatively old northeast refineries. Among the refiners that have supported the bill are San Antonio-based Tesoro and the privately owned Flint Hills Resources, part of the Koch family's empire.
Stephen H. Brown, Tesoro's vice president for federal government affairs, conceded that the prospects for lifting the crude-oil limits do not look bright at the moment, but he said that "with the end-of-the-year mash-up coming, the penchant by some for dealmaking will grow stronger as the holidays approach." He added, however, that lawmakers should avoid loading the measure up with other provisions to get it through both chambers. "It is important to be clear early in the process that no deal is better than a bad one when it comes to getting this across the finish line," he said.