Should the U.S. Get in the Crude Oil Export Business?

The World
How It Works
Jan. 9 2014 2:56 PM

Should the U.S. Get in the Crude Oil Export Business?

109887800
Oil pumps operate near central Los Angeles. Their yield may soon be heading to Europe.

Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski called for lifting the 40-year-old ban on U.S. crude oil exports. With some notable exceptions—oil sent to Canada, mostly—the U.S. is currently barred from exporting oil that hasn’t been refined into gasoline or diesel to other countries. The regulation has been in place since the oil shocks of the 1970s, when it was enacted to preserve domestic supplies and insulate the U.S. from international disruptions.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Obviously, the global energy picture has changed dramatically since then, with China having overtaken the U.S. as the world’s largest oil importer. U.S. crude imports peaked in 2005 amid both rising U.S. production from new sources and a sluggish domestic demand.

Advertisement

Oil companies, and politicians from oil-producing states like Murkowski, support lifting the ban, arguing that it would spur greater demand and boost production. The case against lifting the ban is both environmental—it could lead to more U.S. drilling and emissions—and economic: It could lead to higher gas prices.

Michael Levi, an expert on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that the security implications of such a move would be minor. “The United States is vulnerable to oil supply disruptions that drive up prices and hurt the economy as a result," he told Slate. “That’s true whether or not we export some oil."

According to Levi, the political ramifications may be seen more in terms of future trade negotiations. China, for instance, has been criticized in recent years for restricting exports of strategic resources such as rare earth metals. Opening up its own resources to export gives the U.S. more rhetorical ammunition to attack such practices.

Outside the U.S., the big winners of lifting the ban might be European countries, where refineries —many of them decades old—have been shutting down in the face of competition from newer facilities in the Middle East and Asia and the high volumes of refined petroleum products being exported from the United States. U.S. refiners, many of whom have turned a tidy profit with the U.S. unable to export crude, have more mixed feelings about the idea.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Outward
Oct. 22 2014 9:00 AM Wailing Against the Pansies: Homophobia in Whiplash
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 22 2014 7:30 AM An Illusion That Makes Me Happy and Sad
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.