Revolutionary extraction technologies have helped increase the supply of fossil fuels in the United States, driving down prices, spurring economic activity, and potentially reversing the longtime status of the United States as a net energy importer to a significant exporter. Impeding that transition are outdated federal regulations—in particular discretionary export licensing systems for natural gas and crude oil—that restrict exports, distort domestic energy prices, deter investment, and encourage graft. They also subvert some of the Obama administration stated policy objectives and could run afoul of U.S. international trade obligations.The full paper is available on Cato's website here. Probably my favorite part is the section on the inconsistency between the Obama administration's use - intentional or otherwise - of archaic licensing systems to restrict oil and gas exports and various other White House policies:
Despite the potential economic windfall, opposition to exporting natural gas and crude oil has materialized among certain domestic consuming industries and environmental groups, causing the administration to delay any approvals on pending export-license applications. But there are compelling reasons to approve those applications and to overhaul our disjointed, anachronistic, export license systems to properly reflect the new energy landscape. This paper describes those reasons and provides a basic roadmap for reform.
First, the restrictive export licensing systems undermine the National Export Initiative (NEI) and its goal of doubling U.S. exports between 2009 and 2014. Second, the administration’s reticence with respect to fossil fuel exports stands in stark contrast to its full-throated advocacy of other energy exports, particularly renewables like bio fuels and solar panels. Indeed, the September 2010 White House report setting forth the NEI’s priority recommendations calls for increased government support for renewable and nuclear energy exports—but never mentions oil or natural gas. A November 2012 follow-up report lauds the U.S. government’s efforts to achieve these objectives, yet continues to ignore American fossil fuels, despite the massive increases in production and export potential that occurred between 2010 and 2012. Furthermore, increased fossil-fuel exports could actually spur domestic production of renewable energy through higher oil and gas prices. According to the EIA, the role of renewables in electricity generation would be “greater in a higher-gas-price environment.”Be sure to read the whole thing. And I'd be remiss not to note some of the other recent work on this topic:
Third, the use of export restrictions to benefit downstream industries contradicts longstanding U.S. policy with respect to export restraints and illegal subsidies. The Commerce Department repeatedly has imposed anti-subsidy duties on imports to countervail subsidies resulting from foreign export restrictions on upstream inputs. The administration’s embrace of similar restrictions would not only be hypocritical, but would also expose U.S. exports of energy-intensive products (e.g., fertilizer) to “copycat” duties in key foreign markets.
Fourth, the U.S. government has long opposed restrictive and opaque export licensing systems in WTO negotiations and dispute settlement. For example, in China—Raw Materials (DS394), the U.S. government challenged China’s “non-automatic” export licensing systems for various raw materials as impermissible restrictions on exportation in violation of GATT Article XI. In March 2009, the United States and several other countries submitted a proposal to the WTO Negotiating Group on Market Access calling for increased disciplines on Members’ use of export licensing. The current U.S. export licensing regulations for oil and gas contradict these positions and undermine laudable efforts to rein in such restrictions globally.
- Heritage's Nicolas Loris on the economic benefits of natural gas exports and empowering states to control their own energy policy.
- The Peterson Institute's comments urging DOE approval of pending natural gas export license applications.