THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Byline: Michael Marks
WASHINGTON — Texas lawmakers lobbied to repeal the decades-old ban on crude oil exports Tuesday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.
“It’s high time we remove the crude oil export ban. Exporting U.S. crude will lower gas prices, increase American jobs, and strengthen our national security. And that’s just the way it is,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, who chairs the subcommittee.
Republican Reps. Joe Barton of Arlington and Michael McCaul of Austin have both filed bills to lift the ban on crude oil exports. They testified before the subcommittee, with McCaul calling a repeal of the ban “long overdue.”
Barton actually filed his bill twice. After landing on bill number 666 the first time around, he refiled it and drew the less-Satanic 702.
Barton has long advocated for repealing the export ban, which was first instituted during the oil crisis of the 1970s.
“When the ban was put in place, the world was a different place. U.S. production was declining, imports were increasing,” Barton said.
But that’s no longer the case. The U.S. is now one of the most prolific oil producers in the world, and stockpiles of crude are approaching all-time highs. Much of that has been fueled by extracting previously unattainable crude through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
But some suggest that the fracking boom may have busted, as crude oil prices dropped from over $100 per barrel in July to less than $50 in April. The energy industry has responded by cutting thousands of jobs and cutting back on production.
Texas, which added over 100,000 oil and gas-related jobs between June 2009 and 2014, has been hit especially hard by the price drop. Poe said that in Texas “over 70,000 people have been laid off since Thanksgiving” because of the downturn.
That’s helped the push to lift the oil export ban. But repealing the 40-year-old policy isn’t a slam dunk by any means.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tried to attach an amendment lifting the ban to the Keystone XL pipeline bill in January. The effort failed after colleagues and lobbyists said they hadn’t had enough time to consider the issue.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, was more skeptical about lifting the ban than his Texan colleagues. He said that such legislation should be carefully considered, and include provisions to account for the notoriously volatile oil market.
“It’s going to be difficult to lift that ban carte blanche,” Castro said. “There’s going to have to be safeguards in place.”
Castro suggested that any bill to lift the ban could be coupled with provisions to support alternative sources of energy like wind or geothermal.
Supporters of the ban also stress environmental concerns. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass., the panel’s ranking member, said he was worried that lifting the ban would increase domestic oil production, and thereby “heighten risks of spills” and significantly increase “release of carbon dioxide.”
Stephen Kretzmann, the founder and director of Oil Change International, said that lifting the ban could increase domestic crude production by nearly 500,000 barrels per day. He added that this “hazardous” increase would “likely lead to greater greenhouse gas emissions and threats to public safety.”
But another common argument for keeping the ban — that doing so would increase prices at the pump — was soundly dismissed by the hearing’s second set of witnesses, a panel of policy experts.
“Both economic theory and empirical evidence … suggest refined product prices would not rise, and may even fall slightly, if export restrictions were removed, said Jason Bordoff in his written testimony. Bordoff directs the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
Bordoff cited studies from the Brookings Institution, the Energy Information Administration, and Rice University that came to that conclusion.
Barton called lifting the ban “a win-win.”
“It’s a win for consumers, it’s a win for the producers, it’s a win for the strategic interests of the United States,” Barton said.