Never let it be said that anything is ever truly off the table in Washington, D.C., as a week after the White House stated they opposed lifting the 40-year ban on U.S. crude exports, there are indications that a deal to lift the ban could be coming together as part of the Congressional budget proposal.
John Kneiss, director, Stratas Advisors, told Hart Energy that as of Tuesday afternoon it appeared very likely that a rider lifting this ban would be included in the omnibus bill. He added that despite the rhetoric from the White House, a veto of such a bill would be highly unlikely since passage would require bipartisan support.
In a year that’s largely consisted of bad news for the U.S. oil and gas industry, highlighted by OPEC’s refusal to curtail crude production, the formal blockage of the Keystone XL Pipeline by the Obama Administration, and a warm fall and winter throughout the U.S. that has greatly reduced heating demand, this announcement could see 2015 end on a high note.
The $1.1 trillion omnibus being discussed is the result of new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) courting House Democrats to help secure passage as it is expected that the House Freedom Caucus, which is primarily comprised of members of the Tea Party, will vote against the bill.
In order to attract Democrat votes, Republicans are including a number of provisions, including the extension of child care tax credits and renewable energy subsidies. Besides passage of the budget itself, the major win for Republicans would be the lifting of the crude export ban.
Passage of the bill would provide funding, which is scheduled to expire on Dec. 16, to allow the federal government to continue operating and avoid a shutdown that was last experienced in 2013. Congress could extend funding before a vote on the omnibus occurs. Such a vote is likely to occur before the end of the week, according to Kneiss.
While the lifting of the export ban would certainly be a boon to an oil and gas industry in the midst of a price depression, but it is unlikely that it would have a short-term impact as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) prices are trading at a loss to Brent crude. On a long-term basis, it will help U.S. production reach new markets and possibly undermine OPEC’s ability to manipulate global markets as the U.S. could gain market share in the future based on more secure and stable production.
“A repeal of the U.S. oil export ban would have positive long-term ramifications for U.S. oil production development, opening up new markets for U.S. crude and allowing for a more optimal distribution of varying crude qualities to refineries with appropriate processing capabilities over a broader region,” Simmons & Co. International said in a research note.
The investment firm noted that the potential for oil exports in the near-term will also be hampered by the decline in U.S. production as well as the increased demand from domestic refiners for light crude.
If nothing else, opening up the export market will help create a floor for WTI prices in the near-term and potentially provide a boost to heavy NGL prices, which have a close relationship to crude.
Frank Nieto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.