Uncle Sam has a chance to make one of the good-news stories of 2013 even better next year. Thanks to the extraction technique known as fracking, the United States is producing much more oil than was expected just a few years ago. Modern industrial economies run on oil, so a boost in domestic supply helps business to grow and lessens the nation’s dependence on the volatile Middle East.
Trouble is, America’s oil policies haven’t kept up. Some key laws date to the oil embargo of 1973, when Middle East suppliers abruptly cut off America and Europe. Prices soared, and long lines formed at fueling stations. In response, the U.S. set out to promote conservation and domestic exploration, and also to control the free market by restricting trade — always a mistake in the long run.
Among other anti-competitive steps, Congress made it illegal to export domestically produced crude oil. That policy didn’t discourage foreign imports or conserve domestic reserves in the way Congress intended. Instead, it discouraged new production.
Like free trade in general, selling American oil overseas would be good for our economy. It would make the oil market more efficient, encourage a build-out of the U.S. energy network and stabilize prices over time for consumers.
Congress should have lifted the ban years ago. Politicians have been wary, however, fearing that exports will result in rising prices at the pump, and a backlash from voters.
Those fears are misguided. The ban does nothing to keep domestic gasoline prices lower. The big winners are the operators of U.S. refineries that can buy light crude oil at depressed prices because there is nowhere else to process it.
We recognize that helping consumers and the economy is not the only consideration. The federal government also must view oil exports in the context of national security: The government should retain its ability to restrict or ban exports of this strategic petrochemical during severe product shortages or other national emergencies.
Today, however, the government has no reason to keep holding back one of the nation’s most promising industries.Chicago Tribune