The last time serious talk about exporting oil was heard in Washington, the Soviet Union still loomed, the Reagan Revolution had yet to take place and the National Basketball Association had an equitable distribution of talent.
It was the 1970s, and with the Arab oil embargo a fresh memory and fears that domestic drilling had peaked, Congress instituted fuel-economy standards for cars, an energy-conservation program for consumer products and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It also banned all exports of U.S. oil except for small amounts to Canada.
Four decades later, that ban is threatening to put a damper on the shale-oil boom in the U.S., and Congress or the president should find a way to reverse, or at least temporarily suspend, it.
Consider how drastically the U.S. oil picture has changed. Production has increased to 7.4 million barrels a day from 5 million in 2008, thanks to new methods of extracting oil from deep rock using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In the past year alone, these techniques have boosted output by a million barrels a day.
The point is, unless some of the shale oil is exported, it will be stranded, or simply left in the ground. And though to some environmentalists that may sound like a tempting prospect, it would not reduce global consumption of oil -- just the consumption of U.S. oil. Lessening total use will take efforts more directly targeted to that end, including programs to develop renewable energy and efficiency and to put a price on carbon emissions.
By increasing exports even as it continues importing oil, the U.S. can exercise maximum flexibility in world oil markets. It can keep U.S. oil flowing, encouraging further exploration and drilling. And it can help maintain relatively stable gasoline prices, because these are largely determined by world markets.
David Fuller's view Those in the USA who oppose the exporting
of oil from their country cite two arguments: 1) It would be a selfish, short-term
gain and deprived future generations of this valuable resource; 2) We should
stop polluting the planet by producing and burning fossil fuels.
The first argument above has been around for decades, and it has been proved to be wrong as the technology for extracting oil has progressed. It is a finite resource but the invention of fracking (long described by Fullermoney as a 'game changer') not to mention future improvements in extraction techniques, should ensure that known reserves of oil and gas last into the next century, at the current rate of production.
As for the second argument above, Fullermoney understands the environmental risks, and maintains that the world needs some luck regarding the future rate and nature of climate change. We have to take that risk because if the world stopped using fossil fuels, the global economy would be plunged into the severest of depressions. So we need time and ever improving technologies, to both reduce CO2 emissions and also extract CO2 from the atmosphere. Additionally, we need time to improve the efficiency of solar and other renewable energy sources. We also need time to improve and construct new generation nuclear plants.
Will it all work? Hopefully, and awareness of the problems is sufficient to ensure an increasing technological effort on all fronts.
By exporting oil, even if only a small amount, the US can help its own economy and also global GDP growth. Japan, the USA's most important Asian ally, would be an obvious candidate. Oil exports would increase the US's influence in this industry, and encourage other countries to tap their own shale reserves. It might also pull some of the speculative funds out of the oil market.
Despite generally soft commodity markets, oil prices have rallied (WTI & Brent), and further strength would weigh on global GDP growth which is still struggling from the lingering effects of the credit crisis recession. Brent crude is not yet a problem as it is only recovering from the lower side of its range for the last two-and-a-half years, but the amber warning lights will be flashing if it approaches $120.