U.S. crude exports hit recent high

HOUSTON — June U.S. crude oil exports rose by about one-third compared to the month before, adding momentum to a recent push to loosen  U.S. laws restricting such exports.

Data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau placed U.S. exports at about 390,000 barrels per day in June, a 35 percent increase from May. That’s a tall figure, especially considering that U.S. exports of domestically produced crude are severely restricted by a 1975 federal law that prohibits the export of U.S.-produced crude oil with a few exceptions.

June’s export total is the highest  since the 1950’s and more than Ecuador, the smallest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to an analysis of the data by Reuters.

The majority of the exports went to Canada, which is largely exempted from the federal ban. The government also allows re-export of foreign oil.

The U.S. Commerce Department  opened another avenue for export in late July when it ruled that condensate – a type of ultralight oil – was not a crude oil and could be exported once processed in a distillation tower. The first shipment left Texas soon after, and some analysts believe that the market could reach hundreds of thousands of barrels per day.

Other cracks  also have started appearing in the export ban.

Several major oil companies have argued for the restrictions to end as U.S. crude production has risen from about 6 million barrels a day in 2011 to nearly 8.4 million barrels a day now.

On Thursday, the Washington Post pressed for Congress to repeal the ban entirely. The newspaper argued that lifting the restrictions would ease a mismatch between U.S. refineries more suited to refine heavier types of oil and the lighter types of oil being produced from domestic shale.

The ban on exports stems from oil price spikes during the 1970s, when OPEC nations imposed an embargo partly in protest of U.S. Mideast policy. Keeping the ban in place now, the Post argued, doesn’t make sense.

“Congress should lift the ban entirely,” the paper wrote. “Until then, Commerce should allow as much oil as it can to flow through the ban’s exceptions.”

The U.S. is still a major importer of oil. The country imported 9.3 million barrels of crude oil a day in May, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

The Census’ tracking of crude oil export numbers usually closely matches the figures released soon after by the Energy Information Administration, Reuters reported.