- - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is downplaying speculation that the Obama administration is considering lifting the ban on most exports of crude oil.

Mr. Moniz, asked Wednesday if the U.S. could export oil without raising domestic gasoline prices, refused to confirm whether the administration is considering the ban, which has been called unnecessary, with the nation in the midst of the shale oil boom, by Republicans and oil producers.

“As far as the impacts, if it were allowed, and I’m not saying that there’s any consideration of it right now — and that would be with the Department of Commerce — as you know, economic analyses are all over the place in terms of the impact. That’s all I can say,” he told the Guardian.

His remarks were the first on the subject since suggesting at a Platts conference in December that a review of the ban may be appropriate. That comment to reporters sparked discussion about whether the Obama administration would take up the issue as part of a jobs and trade agenda.

The matter is due to get additional attention at a hearing on Jan. 30 before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Moniz spoke Wednesday after giving a speech at the Washington Auto Show, in which he announced $50 million in new funding for research to lower the price of plug-in electric cars.

Regarding crude exports, Moniz said his comment at the Platts conference in New York “has been reported accurately sometimes, and sometimes not.” He stressed that at the time he was trying to contrast the different export approvals process for natural gas compared to crude oil.

The Energy Department holds review authority over licenses to export liquefied natural gas exports, while the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act gives limited crude export authority to the Commerce Department.

“My statement was that they had very, very different histories which explains in many ways…the different approaches,” Moniz said.

The interest in crude exports has been driven largely by major oil companies and by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who holds the top minority seat on the Senate energy committee.

They have called for a review of the ban, put into place after the OPEC oil embargo. A review has also been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on free trade grounds.

Murkowski and the oil majors contend that booming production of lighter crudes from shale plays will exceed U.S. refining capacity in the coming years, and that exports will improve the nation’s trade imbalance while maintaining oil demand and related economic activity.

Critics of a repeal, including Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and refiner Valero Energy, say the current regulatory scheme should not be changed and that it allows for crude exports where warranted, particularly to Canada.

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