In our previous post about the debate on the U.S. crude oil ban, we discussed domestic crude oil production and how the ban on exports has affected that production. Today we close by discussing the elephant in the room: what will happen to the global market if the ban is lifted?
It depends on who you ask. In a July Washington Post piece sponsored by ConocoPhillips, it seems at least some companies with large investments in U.S production are willing to live with lower crude prices while theoretically lowering consumer gasoline costs, presumably making up for it be selling in volume overseas. Kenneth Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University, is another believer that the price at the pump won’t increase, though refiners would still be paying more for domestic crude according to an article in The Business Journals. And the U.S. Government Accountability Office put a number on that savings in July, theorizing a 1.5 to 13 cent per gallon decrease in gasoline prices if the ban were lifted.
Others are not so optimistic. Citigroup analyst Seth Kleinman believes light sweet crude will struggle to find buyers, contribute to oversupply, and potentially hurt Brent futures more than help the WTI. Energy strategist Michael Loewen of TD Securities believes an already narrow differential will compress further “because those additional volumes will weigh on the Brent market.” And retired U.S. Navy commander Kirk Lippold, citing his direct experience with “the devastating effects of reliance on imported oil,” worried that lifting the ban would in the long term result in an extended dependence on foreign imports and reduce the “price discount” the U.S. currently enjoys.
With the debate on the effects of lifting the ban still raging — further fueled by a preliminary agreement in mid-July to lift sanctions on Iran, which would allow the country to export oil once again — former and current government officials such as Lippold are calling for careful and prudent action from the Obama Administration. Fearing political backlash should gasoline prices go up, representatives such as Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush suggest maximizing foreign relations with a few select countries like Cuba while testing the market dynamics of exporting crude oil to them. In fact, the Energy Information Administration’s Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz suggested in June that the government is actively considering exporting crude to Mexico. Choosing select countries that already have the refining capacity to handle U.S. light crude would in theory allow the Obama Administration to test market effects further. However, it’s not clear is such a middle-of-the-road plan would ever receive bipartisan support in the face of strong calls for nothing but a full removal of the ban.