Are Rising Oil Exports Good for America?

For the first time since 1949, America exports more oil than it imports.

By + More

Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for

Earlier this month the Department of Energy reported that the United States has become a net exporter of petroleum products (gasoline, diesel, etc.) for the first time since 1949.

It's important for Americans and our elected representatives to understand what that means especially if there's a possible connection between rising exports and a "tightened" U.S. supply that leads to rising domestic gasoline prices too. 

[Check out 2011: The Year in Cartoons]

Just as soon as that news was announced by the Deptartment of Energy, the National Petrochemical &  Refiners Association issued a news release of its own; apparently to convince anyone who's listening  that this development is good for America. 

NPRA President Charles Drevna stated the following:

If exports of fuels refined in America continue as a trend rather than proving to be a one-time anomaly, it will be a positive development for American energy security. It will also result in more American jobs, more tax revenue for government at all levels, and a faster recovery for our nation's economy. This recovery could be accelerated even more if the U.S. government allowed increased production of oil and natural gas in our own country and if the Keystone XL pipeline is built to carry more oil from our close friend and neighbor Canada to U.S. refineries.

[Read Energy Intelligence's Patrick Dehaan on the benefits and drawbacks of the Keystone XL pipeline.]

Puzzled by that statement, I asked NPRA to explain how increased oil and gasoline exports will deliver "faster economic recovery."  They sent me a statement even more perplexing than the first:

Exporting fuels refined in the United States doesn't reduce the supply of fuels in America. Instead, exports enable refiners to manufacture more fuels so they can meet the needs of foreign customers. This increased American manufacturing activity strengthens the U.S. economy, creates jobs and generates more tax revenue for governments at all levels. It's a win-win-win for all Americans.

For decades, America has been losing manufacturing jobs as our nation buys more and more from abroad and sells less and less manufactured goods. We've seen terrible layoffs hurting workers in the American auto, steel, textile, electronics and appliance manufacturing industries. This has led to tragic increases in unemployment, home foreclosures and poverty. 

Ask the thousands of laid off auto workers if they think America would be better off if U.S. automakers were exporting more cars manufactured in America to Europe and Asia. In the same way, our nation is better off exporting more fuels abroad, to save and create American jobs, lower the trade deficit, and increase America's energy security.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

Of course, NPRA said what it is supposed  to say. But before I embrace their vision of how oil exports will expedite the nation's recovery and put a chicken in every pot, I'm reminded that the economy has been healthier when U.S. gasoline is less expensive and imports exceeded exports. It wasn't that long ago.

In 2005 the United States imported 900 million barrels more than it exported and the national average price of gasoline on Dec. 31, 2005 was $2.19 per gallon.

It makes you wonder.

  • See the 10 priciest years in history for gas.
  • Follow the U.S. News Energy Intelligence blog on Twitter
  • See a collection of political cartoons on gas prices.