50% chance of lifting oil export ban this year: Pioneer CEO

US oil production to decline: Pioneer CEO

Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield on Tuesday put the chances of the U.S. government lifting a ban on crude oil exports this year at 40 to 50 percent.

The chief of one of the country's largest independent oil and gas exploration and production companies said he has recently held talks with members of Congress, senators and Obama administration staff about removing the decades-old restriction on shipping unrefined crude overseas.

On Monday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she would introduce legislation this year to allow U.S. crude exports.

"We're making progress. We're educating people. I'm becoming more and more optimistic," Sheffield told CNBC's "Power Lunch" in an interview on the sidelines of the IHS CERAWeek energy conference in Houston.

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The odds of lifting the ban will plummet in 2016 as attention shifts to the U.S. presidential race, Sheffield said. However, he sees an 80 to 90 percent chance that American E&P companies will be allowed to export black gold by early 2017.

Last year, the Commerce Department gave Pioneer and Enterprise Products Partners permission to begin selling an ultralight oil product called condensate to foreign buyers. Condensate can be used to make fuel.

Robert "Bob" Dudley, chief executive officer of BP, right, speaks with Scott Sheffield, chairman and CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, during the 2015 IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston.
F. Carter Smith | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The United States banned crude exports in 1975 in a bid to promote domestic oil production and build its strategic reserves amid an oil crisis precipitated by a petroleum embargo enforced by Arab nations.

Sheffield also told CNBC he believes U.S. oil production will begin to decline in the next few weeks, noting that growth has slowed for five consecutive weeks and total output has stalled at 9.4 million barrels per day.

In the next six months, he thinks production will bottom at 9.1 million to 9.2 million barrels per day.

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"We're starting to see the effect of dropping from 1,600 oil rigs to 730 oil rigs," he said. The number of rigs exploring for oil and gas in the U.S. has fallen for 19 consecutive weeks.

Despite the plunge in the rig count, inventories at the delivery point for U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude in Cushing, Oklahoma, and facilities along the Gulf Coast remain high, he said, creating an incentive to lift the export ban.

—Reuters contributed to this story.