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U.S. Will Export Oil – Who Wins and Who Loses?

The surge in U.S. oil production in 2010 has left a glut of oil trapped within the United States. To be sure, the U.S. is by far the largest consumer of oil in the world, so it’s not like all that extra oil sloshing around can’t find a home. But, due to a mismatch between the light, sweet crude coming out of places like the Bakken and the Eagle Ford, and the preponderance of refineries on the Gulf Coast equipped to handle heavier, sourer types of oil, there are local surpluses in supply. As a result, prices are somewhat depressed – for the last few years there has been a large spread between the Brent and WTI benchmarks, at times as wide as $10 per barrel. This has drillers looking overseas for markets.

Yet, U.S. law largely prohibits oil exports. Producers have already had a warm-up debate over energy exports – the glut of shale gas has drillers pushing lawmakers and regulators to approve export terminals for LNG, and the Obama administration has obliged, albeit at a slower pace than the industry wants. Last year, the murmurings of a similar debate – this time over oil – began to emerge. That debate kicked into high gear after the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Producers had shifted back and forth between a litany of arguments to support exports – that LNG and oil exports will grow the economy, create jobs, provide geopolitical benefits, lead to energy independence – which at times fell flat. But, with the Ukraine crisis,…

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