"If we had unfettered exports of crude oil then one would export the Brent-WTI spread would narrow and the U.S. refiners would lose some their raw material cost advantage," said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates.
The refining industry is at the heart of the debate. Currently, the U.S. refining industry is more able to process heavy crudes, like those from Saudi Arabia, then the lighter sweet crudes produced in the Bakken region of North Dakota and elsewhere. The big refineries on the Gulf Coast, which process heavy crude, are also exporters of refined product, such as diesel and gasoline.
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"In Texas and Oklahoma and Alaska, where the oil is being produced, people want to see the export market open, but for politicians in places like the East Coast, it's only downside if they lift the ban and prices rise," Lipow said.
Murkowski said at the conference that more legislators still need to understand that lifting the ban would mean more U.S. oil on the market and cheaper prices for consumers.
Lipow said he does not expect the ban to be lifted, but more re-exporting of Canadian crude might take place as well as more exports of condensate, a lightly refined product approved for export. The U.S. has recently allowed companies to export condensates or lightly refined oil. Crude oil exports totaled 503,000 barrels a day last week, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Lipow does not believe repealing the export ban would provide relief at the pump. "It would not impact gasoline prices because they are already connected to the rest of the world," he said. "We're importing about 500,000 barrels a day into the East Coast, and we're exporting about 500,000 barrels a day off the Gulf Coast. So we're all linked to the world market on gasoline and diesel already."