By Jeffrey Peck
September 29, 2014 at 5:00 am ET
Voters across the United States are clear in their message to elected officials who may support lifting the current ban in the United States on crude oil exports: Don’t do it!
A recent national survey of more than 2,200 voters by Morning Consult found a majority believe exporting crude oil to other countries will make gasoline prices increase in the U.S. – 52% believe gas prices would increase, while only 23% say prices would fall.
Most notably to those considering a presidential run in 2016, a recent survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center (UNH) found similar, but starker results. An overwhelming 85% of New Hampshire voters agree the U.S. should limit exports of crude oil if doing so keeps gasoline prices from rising. In addition, 78% want the government to be certain about the impact of crude oil exports on gasoline prices before current law is changed.
Further, in a finding that should matter to every elected official, 70% of New Hampshire voters would be less likely to vote for someone who voted to allow crude oil exports and then gasoline prices went up.
There’s proof voters rightly worry about gasoline prices rising if crude oil exports are allowed. According to an independent analysis by Barclays PLC, “the U.S. consumer is currently benefitting from discounted crudes in the form of cheaper gasoline prices.” Specifically, drivers in the U.S. pay 7 cents less per gallon of gasoline because refiners pass on about $3 per barrel of savings. Significantly, the 7 cents per gallon of gas discount saved motorists more than $9.5 billion last year, with consumers expected to realize $9.6 billion of savings this year.
A recent Brookings report – which lacked any participation by refiners or consumers – suggested that gasoline prices would fall in the U.S. if the export ban were lifted. This prediction is based on a single, fatally flawed assumption – namely, that the cartel known as OPEC (the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries) would sit on its hands and do nothing in response. That assumption is naïve to a fault. Just like they have in the past, if U.S. exports increase the world’s crude oil supply, OPEC will reduce its own production in order to maintain high prices and, therefore, its profits.
Voters are also clear that the U.S. should keep the ban on crude oil exports while we remain so heavily dependent on foreign imports, which account for about 45% of our supply. In the same survey of New Hampshire voters, two-thirds believe the U.S. is importing too much oil from foreign countries, with 86% agreeing that the U.S. should reduce the amount of oil imported from the Middle East and other countries before exporting domestic crude. More than half – 56% – would be less likely to vote for an elected official who supports exporting crude oil before the U.S. becomes energy independent.
The recent Brookings report agrees that energy independence remains a significant challenge for the U.S., plainly conceding that the nation is far from energy independent. In the words of the report: “Unlike the market for natural gas where the U.S. has become self-sufficient, the U.S. is still a major importer of heavy crude oil and will remain so for many years.” One related fact Brookings fails to advertise – if the U.S. decides to export crude oil, domestic refiners will have to import a barrel for every barrel shipped overseas.
The message from poll respondents to politicians is clear: Vote to allow crude exports at your peril. In the words of Dr. Andrew Smith, Director of the UNH Survey Center, “the New Hampshire voters we surveyed clearly want to reduce the amount of crude oil America imports before we export domestic supplies.” Smith added: “Voters also want to know that gasoline prices will stay stable before lifting the ban on exporting crude oil to foreign countries.”
Congress and President Obama should resist pleas from large oil producers and their supporters to eliminate controls on crude oil exports that have served our national interests well for four decades. After all, export restrictions lower gasoline prices for most American consumers, reduce our reliance on imported oil and provide an historic opportunity to gain energy security by breaking the grip of foreign governments and oil cartels on our crude supply. As reflected in the polls, this is clear to voters across America – they distrust calls for exports because they want to keep the energy advantage here in the United States.
Jeffrey Peck is a partner at Peck Madigan Jones, which represents Consumers and Refiners United for Domestic Energy (CRUDE).