Big oil push for crude exports could bring more oil trains through Washington state
Steve Wilhelm, Staff Writer
Puget Sound Business Journal
Right now, U.S. companies are not allowed to export crude oil. But if some very powerful oil companies get what they want, that could be about to change.
If that happens, Washington state could become a major portal for crude exports.
Last week, top executives of four leading U.S. oil companies sent a joint letter to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pressing for repeal of the 30-year ban on crude oil exports.
“Allowing U.S. crude oil access to world markets will help expand American exports in general, create benefits for our economy and U.S. consumers, and promote a more resilient global oil market,” said the letter, signed by Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron Corp. and BP Fuels.
The issue is raising the hackles of environmental groups, which have been vehemently opposing coal exports for years and have indicated opposition to even the hint of allowing oil exports.
Washington state is the fastest route to China – a likely importer, should the pathway open up – which could put the state right in the middle of the debate.
“There are potentially serious implications for the Northwest,” said Eric de Place, policy director for Sightline Institute in Seattle. “We have these huge deposits of light shale oil in Bakken that can’t be exported right now. We are the least expensive rail haul of any spot in the country, and we are closest to Asia.”
He estimating that opening the door to crude exports, which in this case would come from the Dakotas’ Bakken Oil fields, could double the volume of oil trains through Washington. Sightline last month filed suit against the federal government, asking for more information about some exports that already are being allowed, although they’re technically not crude oil.
Friends of the Earth has similar concerns.
“Lifting the export ban on domestic crude oil will serve to further expose our communities to the risks of marine oil spills, explosive oil trains, and competition for use of the rails to serve passenger trains and getting other commodities to and from our ports.” wrote Fred Felleman, Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth, and a candidate for the Port of Seattle Commission, in an email.
This week Alaskan Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is expected to introduce legislation that would allow the exports.