The NYT had an article on the battle between oil producers and refiners over removing restrictions on the export of crude oil that included some misleading comments. At one point it presented the claims from a producer that a domestic glut of crude oil is lowering prices and could lead to a shutdown of less productive fields.
"'Nobody wants the collapse of the oil industry,' Mr. Sheffield [the oil producer] said in an interview. 'You would be importing crude oil from the Middle East all over again.'"
As a practical matter, the issue of imports is the exact opposite of what Mr. Sheffield claimed. If we needed oil domestically, the shutdown wells could resume production again. If we are worried about the security of our oil sources, it would make more sense to leave the oil in the ground so that we can get to it if we are cut off from imports at some future point.
The piece later holds out the prospect of driving down the world price of oil to the domestic U.S. price as a benefit to U.S. consumers.
"The producers argue that if they could freely export, they would increase world oil supplies, forcing down the international Brent benchmark crude price, which in turn would reduce the price of gasoline at the pump. 'The American consumer is held captive by the restrained market,' said Jack Ekstrom, a vice president at the Whiting Petroleum Corporation, a major producer in the North Dakota Bakken shale field. 'When you have additional supplies coming on to market, the price naturally comes down.'"
This doesn't make any sense. The price in the United States for gas will be first and foremost dependent on the price in the United States for oil. Consumers in the United States will not be especially benefited by having the price of oil fall elsewhere.
The real issue here is simply who will profit from the difference between world prices and U.S. domestic prices. If producers can't export but refiners can, then the refiners will be the beneficiaries of the price gap. If the producers are allowed to export then they will be the primary beneficiaries. Either way, the more oil is exported, the higher the price will be for the domestic consumers.
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