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Exxon Makes a Move We Haven't Seen in 40 Years

The energy major is pushing for exports of American oil to markets overseas.

Reports surfaced last week that Exxon is encouraging U.S. regulators to relax an existing export ban on crude. With the company's vice president of public and government affairs, Ken Cohen, telling The Wall Street Journal, "We need to rethink the regulatory scheme and the statutory scheme on the books."

Such a move hasn't been seen in America in over four decades. With oil exports to all nations except Canada having been banned since the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74.

But there is some justification today to Exxon's proposed rethink of the laws.

Prices for U.S. crude are starting to deflate in relation to other global blends. Differentials of America's benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude against Brent oil have extended to over $10 per barrel recently.

And the dampening effects of surging U.S. oil production on pricing are only growing more widespread. Gulf Coasts blends like Louisiana Light Sweet--which formerly traded more or less in line with international prices--have recently begun to trend down, following WTI lower.

The implication being that America is awash in new crude supplies. Making this one of the best-supplied oil markets on the planet.

This sets up some interesting decisions for regulators. Do they embrace lower oil prices as an opportunity for America to benefit from cheap energy? Or do they enhance the competitiveness of domestic energy firms by allowing them to export into premium-priced international markets?

Producers for their part are pushing hard to ship crude where prices are better. Monthly crude exports to Canada--the one spot allowed under current law--have jumped by as much as 100% in 2013. You can see the spike in the chart below, from the Energy Information Administration.

US Crude Oil Exports to Canada

Last week's call from Exxon suggests big energy will make a concerted effort to open up markets beyond this. How lawmakers respond will have a big effect on oil prices going forward.

Here's to exploring new lands,

By. Dave Forest




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Leave a comment
  • Vern Cornell on December 28 2013 said:
    We should allow Canada to import...approval is taking some five years do far...
    We should free up the export market for USA's crude oil...hopefully very soon.

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