Crude-Oil Export Hearing Won’t Force Obama’s Hand

An empty tanker sits at the pier of Chevron's refinery in Richmond, Calif., which refines roughly 250,000 barrels of oil a day into products like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 24, 2014, 8:21 a.m.

The world will prob­ably have to wait a little longer to learn wheth­er the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­ports re­lax­ing the na­tion’s ban on crude-oil ex­ports.

A Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee hear­ing next Thursday will in­clude a vari­ety of voices, but fed­er­al agency of­fi­cials aren’t among them. The pan­el an­nounced the wit­ness list Fri­day.

Keith Chu, the com­mit­tee spokes­man for Chair­man Ron Wyden, D-Ore., noted that the Com­merce De­part­ment, which reg­u­lates ex­port li­censes, is not un­der the En­ergy pan­el’s jur­is­dic­tion.

He also said that Wyden’s fo­cus is on learn­ing more about how re­lax­ing cur­rent laws and policies — which al­low just a small amount of ex­ports — would af­fect con­sumers.

On Thursday, the com­mit­tee will hear from Con­tin­ent­al Re­sources CEO Har­old Hamm, whose com­pany is a ma­jor oil pro­du­cer in North Dakota’s Bakken re­gion, and Amy My­ers Jaffe, a well-known Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia en­ergy ex­pert. The oth­er wit­nesses are Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress Seni­or Fel­low Daniel J. Weiss and Graeme Bur­nett, a seni­or ex­ec­ut­ive with Delta Air Lines.

Poli­cy­makers are un­der grow­ing pres­sure from ma­jor busi­ness groups, in­clud­ing the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, to lift the ban. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not yet re­spon­ded pub­licly to the in­creas­ing calls.

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce, in an up­dated en­ergy policy re­port this month, said the Com­merce De­part­ment should grant li­censes to com­pan­ies seek­ing to ex­port crude to World Trade Or­gan­iz­a­tion mem­ber coun­tries.

The cham­ber even­tu­ally wants Con­gress to end the dec­ades-old stat­utory ex­port re­stric­tions im­posed after the 1970s Ar­ab oil em­bargo, but ac­know­ledges that’s highly un­likely in an elec­tion year.

Sim­il­arly, pro-ex­port Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the En­ergy pan­el’s top GOP mem­ber, said re­cently that the Com­merce De­part­ment has the au­thor­ity to re­lax ex­port lim­its, but she plans to in­tro­duce le­gis­la­tion if the ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t act.

There’s also new pres­sure from the think-tank quarter. Two Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion ex­perts, in a memo this week, said Pres­id­ent Obama should urge Con­gress to lift the ban.

Obama, for his part, will speak be­fore Con­gress at next Tues­day’s State of the Uni­on ad­dress. But Jack Ger­ard, head of the Amer­ic­an Pet­ro­leum In­sti­tute, said Fri­day that he doesn’t ex­pect ex­ports to come up.

Ex­port back­ers say the U.S. oil pro­duc­tion surge has made the ex­port ban un­ne­ces­sary, while op­pon­ents ar­gue that lift­ing the ban could drive up prices and hurt con­sumers.

Amy Harder con­trib­uted

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