Texas leads nation in exports, thanks to petrochemicals and gasoline

WASHINGTON — Texas refineries churning out gasoline and diesel — and selling the bounty overseas in record levels — helped make the Lone Star State an export leader in 2014, according to new government data.

About a fifth of Texas’ $289 billion in exported goods last year were petroleum and coal products — about $59.1 billion worth — according to a report from the Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative.

“Texas is leading the way,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told reporters on a conference call to discuss the report Thursday. “They support more than 1.1 million jobs through exports.”

Other national leaders include California (with 775,320 jobs supported by exported goods in 2014), Washington (390,690 jobs) and New York (389,957 jobs).

Nationwide, the Commerce Department counts 11.7 million jobs are supported by exports, as a growing number of firms do business overseas.

Amb. Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, said the numbers show that “exports are essential to growing the United States economy.”

The Obama administration released the assessment as it tries to coax Congress to give the White House streamlined trade promotion authority that would boost its ability to seal trade deals with other countries. With trade promotion authority, President Barack Obama could submit negotiated deals to Congress for straight up-or-down votes, with no amendments allowed.

Advocates say the fast-track authority provides vital assurance to other countries in trade talks with the United States that any pact they reach with the White House will stick — and not be torn apart on Capitol Hill. Froman argued Thursday that trade promotion authority would allow the United States to sit down with trading partners “and speak with one voice” to get the best possible deal.

But some labor groups are opposed to fast-track authority and worry that future deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, won’t include sufficient protections for U.S. workers.

Under existing trade agreements, some 41,558 companies in Texas exported goods in 2013, according to the new report — smaller than the 75,175 exporting companies in California and 61,489 in Florida.

Nationwide, 9 out of 10 of those exporting companies are small businesses. And while small businesses are exporting more than ever before, Froman noted, they tend to sell to just one other country, and many small businesses aren’t doing it at all.

In Texas, 93.2 percent of the goods exporters in 2013 were small- or medium-sized businesses.

Beyond petroleum, key manufacturing exports in the state included computer and electronic products (some $46.6 billion worth in 2014) and chemicals ($46.1 billion). The next-leading categories of exported goods in Texas — machinery and transportation equipment — were each valued at less than $30 billion in 2014.

The report underscores the value to Texas of exported petrochemicals and petroleum products — such as gasoline and diesel — produced by facilities along the Gulf Coast and elsewhere in the state.

Oil producers plumbing the Eagle Ford shale formation and tapping the Permian Basin are eager to add raw, unprocessed crude to the list.

Many of the basin’s most active oil producers, including Pioneer Natural Resources, Anadarko Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and Chesapeake Energy Corp., are lobbying Congress and the White House to end a 40-year-old ban on crude exports.

They have already won the Commerce Department’s confirmation that condensate — an ultra-light oil that generally is in a gaseous form underground — can be exported as long as it is at least lightly distilled.

Pioneer CEO Scott Sheffield has said the company is on track to export most of its 70,000 barrels-per-day yield of condensate in 2015.

Selling crude overseas could yield additional economic benefits, building on the “positive momentum” described in the Commerce Department report, said a spokesman for Producers for American Crude Oil Exports.

“By allowing crude oil to enjoy the same trade status as gasoline, diesel, coal and natural gas liquids, hundreds of thousands of jobs across the oil and gas supply chain would be protected and created,” the PACE spokesman said. “It would also improve our balance of trade, spur additional investment in the U.S. and reduce the price at the pump for consumers.”

(Graphic: Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative)
(Graphic: Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative)