Sen. Lisa Murkowski asks Obama administration for details on oil swaps with Mexico

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, in January on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, center, in January on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — Months after the Obama administration said it was allowing U.S. companies to exchange some of their light oil for heavy, Mexican crude, a top Republican senator is questioning whether any of those transactions have taken place.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she is troubled by “conflicting information” about the oil exchanges, which can be approved on a discrete, case-by-case basis.

“Despite great fanfare in the press, there are indications that no such transactions may have actually been approved,” Murkowski said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Related story: Obama administration OKs oil exports to Mexico

Murkowski asked Pritzker to clarify whether any oil swaps with Mexico have been approved and provide details on those authorizations — or explain the administration’s delays in OKing the deals.

Scant detail is publicly available, in part because the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security — which vets proposed oil exports — is barred by law from sharing specific information about proposed or approved transactions.

But earlier this year a Pemex affiliate asked permission to export 100,000 barrels per day of U.S. oil and ultra-light condensate in exchange for Mexican crude.

And in August, a senior administration official said the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security “is acting favorably on license applications for the exchange of U.S. crude oil for similar quantities of Mexican crude oil.”

The Commerce Department did not immediately comment on Murkowski’s letter.

Murkowski’s missive comes as she and other oil export advocates push legislation that would dismantle a 40-year-old ban on most foreign sales of U.S. crude. Two Senate committees have approved separate bills that would undo the export ban, though it is unclear whether the chamber will consider a stand-alone export measure.

The House of Representatives passed oil exports legislation earlier this month, with supporters falling 29 votes shy of the 290 they need to override a threatened presidential veto.

Related story: Oil industry wins big victory as House OKs crude exports

Murkowski said the veto threat reveals “policy contradictions” within the administration when it comes to oil exports and began highlighting them earlier this month. Her first example — documented in an Oct. 8 letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew — is a pair of U.S. directives authorizing transactions involving oil, gas or petroleum products from Libya and Syria.

“The administration’s recent statements criticizing legislative efforts regarding U.S. oil exports stand in stark contrast to prior administration policy designed to support Libyan an dSyrian rebels in their efforts to export oil from their own countries,’ Murkowski told Lew.

The Obama administration can lift or modify the oil export ban without action from Congress.

Murkowski and several Texas lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar and Joaquin Castro, have unsuccessfully urged the White House to put Mexico on the same legal footing as Canada, by allowing oil exports to the country under broad licenses rather than specific approvals for individual transactions.