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ConocoPhillips CEO Trumpets Expanding Domestic Crude Exports

The United States could sustain strong economic growth, add more jobs and improve global energy security by expanding crude oil exports, ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance said Wednesday.

Lance, who helms the largest independent in the country, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that a growing surplus of domestic crude oil offers an opportunity to expand global trade through exports. While a market already exists, the federal government first has to remove a ban enacted 40 years ago, he said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) in late 2014 clarified that lightly processed condensate may be exported (see Daily GPI, Dec. 31, 2014). BIS last summer approved requests by Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and Enterprise Products Partners LP to export condensate under existing regulations (see Shale Daily, June 25, 2014). A unit of Royal Dutch Shell plc confirmed on Wednesday that it has received similar approval.

"The U.S. energy situation has improved significantly since the ban was put in place," Lance said. "Government should recognize the new reality of the renaissance that has transformed North America from energy scarcity to abundance, and enable the industry to keep it going.

"We have just scratched the surface of its potential, and can help ensure that the renaissance continues as an engine of long-term economic growth by exporting our excess crude oil into the world market. Thanks to our new energy abundance, domestic refiners would still have all the oil they need, and would still enjoy a competitive advantage over foreign refiners."

ConocoPhillips revamped its operations a few years ago to focus only on exploration and production, with a big tilt to the U.S. onshore. Most of its capital spending this year is to target the Eagle Ford and Bakken shales (see Shale Daily, Dec. 8, 2014).

Expanding crude oil export markets could incentivize about $750 billion in exploration and production investment between 2016 and 2030, Lance estimated, citing data by the Brookings Institution, IHS Inc. and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The United States could gain $135 billion in annual gross domestic product at the peak, with one million direct or supply chain jobs added.

The trade balance also has been estimated to increase by $67 billion a year with expanded crude exports, with the U.S. government gaining $1.3 trillion in federal, state and local taxes and royalties from 2016-2030.

Increasing light oil production from unconventional formations in the United States is a mismatch for many Gulf Coast refineries that were configured originally to process heavy oil, Lance noted. U.S. light oil production now exceeds domestic refining capacity on a seasonal basis, and is expected to exceed capacity year-round by 2017.

By 2020, exports totaling 1.5-2.0 million b/d would be needed "to avoid needlessly hindering industry development activity, with resulting harm to the national economy," according to Lance.

A lack of sufficient refining capacity to process light oil "economically forces U.S. light oil to sell at a discount to world oil prices," the CEO said. The discount, during a time of oil price weakness, "threatens to force many of the nation's new producing wells below the breakeven point" and reduce cash flow.

"Multiple studies confirm the economic benefits of oil exports," said Lance, who urged the federal government "to recognize these realities. The administration and Congress should act immediately.”

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