API launches first oil export ads as Congress nears vote


Screengrab from the American Petroleum Institute ad, "Crude Oil Exports and National Security." (Houston Chronicle)
Screengrab from the American Petroleum Institute political advertisement, “Crude Oil Exports and National Security.” (Houston Chronicle)

WASHINGTON — The top oil industry trade group is launching advertisements touting the potential economic and national security benefits of crude exports, as Congress heads toward a critical vote on the issue.

The American Petroleum Institute said it would be running the pro-export ads online and on television this week in a dozen states and the District of Columbia.

The spots (here and here) represent the group’s first television advertising campaign focused directly on exports, though API previously has used robocalls to urge people in select states to telephone their lawmakers in support of exports.

Other API campaigns have more broadly touted America’s energy abundance and against polices that threaten it — avoiding a specific mention of oil exports.

But Congress is nearing its first big votes on the issue, beginning with the House Energy and Power Subcommittee on Thursday. The panel is set to take up legislation sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, that would lift the 40-year-old ban on oil exports.

Read more: House committee to vote on oil exports

The longstanding trade limitations — which do not apply to gasoline and other refined petroleum products — bar the foreign sale of most unprocessed U.S. crude, though there are exceptions for some supplies from California and Alaska, as well as shipments to Canada.

Oil producers have been pushing Congress and the Obama administration to lift the ban entirely. Some refiners are campaigning to keep the ban intact, arguing that their facilities and workers could suffer if foreign competitors — who do not have to abide by U.S. shipping restrictions and wage laws — are able to buy tankers of American crude for less than they can.

Related story: Oil export vote brings political risk for some lawmakers

One of the new API ads ties the oil export debate to the nuclear agreement with Iran, underscoring a fairness argument that has been advanced by oil producers and their allies on Capitol Hill for months.

If the deal is finalized and sanctions are lifted, Iranian oil could add some 700,000 barrels of crude to the global market each day. Some analysts say that if OPEC member nations don’t cut back their own production to offset the new Iranian supplies, that could further drive down world crude prices, which have been tumbling for more than a year.

Related story: Nuclear deal will fuel oil export push

“Who loves the ban on US crude oil exports?,” asks API’s national security ad, before intoning: “Iran and Russia. Not exactly our best friends.”

Louis Finkel, API’s executive vice president for government affairs, said in a statement that the ads are aimed “directly to the consumers and workers who will benefit from lifting these outdated restrictions.”

“It’s important to share the facts on how free trade in oil could create new jobs, put downward pressure on fuel costs, and strengthen our energy security,” Finkel said.

Beyond Washington, D.C., API’s ads are set to run in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Washington.

Other groups have paid for advertising on the issue, including the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance and Allied Progress.