WASHINGTON — The leading Capitol Hill advocate for exporting U.S. crude said she is encouraged by the Obama administration’s focus on the issue, following a meeting with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she left the private session confident that “there are ongoing discussions within the (Commerce) department on this issue.”
Murkowski sought the meeting after Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security issued two private rulings confirming that an ultralight hydrocarbon known as condensate can be considered a finished petroleum product — free to be exported — once it has been at least minimally distilled.
The move tests the bounds of a 39-year-old ban on most raw crude exports and illustrated how energy companies are working to find new overseas markets for the oil surging out of U.S. wells, despite the trade restrictions.
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Murkowski declined to discuss specific details of her exchange with Pritzker, and said she left the meeting without any clear timeline for next steps but with a shared pledge to keep talking.
“The dialogue we had today was indicative to me that they’re clearly having these discussions within the secretary’s shop over at Commerce, and I think that’s important that the discussion be happening not just in Commerce but within the administration,” Murkowski said. “There was no discussion of an action plan. They may have one, but our conversation was really about making sure there is this discussion going on.”
Obama administration officials, including Pritzker, have broadly described an interagency process to review the issue. Although Commerce plays the decisive role on trade policy, the Energy Department also has a vested interest in the topic.
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The export debate is an outgrowth of a strategy Murkowski kicked off in January, when she publicly called for the Obama administration to lift the trade restrictions in light of surging oil production, then followed the proclamation up with a series of white papers examining facets of current law and past precedent.
One of the first made the case for the Commerce Department to rule that untreated, raw condensate is not crude and therefore is eligible for export — a step well beyond the recent rulings that hinged on it being processed in a distillation tower.
“When I made my initial push on the issue of exports generally, I thought there was kind of a roadmap going forward and in my mind condensates seemed to be the first place to start,” Murkowski said. “Rather than pushing with legislation or just kind of being demanding, what we have been doing is just presenting a very factual case, outlining … that there are differences in definition when it comes to condensate, reminding folks that we are the only nation in the world that has a ban on exports (and) just kind of laying out the case.”