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CAP Assessment is Outlier on Oil Exports

Recently, the Center for American Progress (CAP) posted a blog outlining their opposition to crude oil exports. Not surprisingly however, CAP, who is opposed to the use of fossil based energy and the responsible development of our domestic energy resources, twists, turns and extrapolates data points to give the impression that crude exports will be harmful for the environment. We take a closer look at a few of these claims below.

Furthermore, CAP’s conclusions make the organization an outlier in the academic and think tank community, which widely recognize the economic and national security benefits of lifting the ban on crude oil exports. Independent institutions from across the political spectrum have conducted studies and research that support removing the ban. These groups include the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, Harvard Business School, The Brookings Institution, Resources for the Future, Bipartisan Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Center for New American Security, Progressive Policy Institute, The Baker Institute at Rice University, Aspen Institute, American Council on Capital Formation and the Heritage Foundation, just to name a few.

CAP uses land use data from the years 2000 – 2012, and claims that: “…If these development patterns continue, IHS CERA’s forecasts of new drilling activity suggest that increased oil exports would alone result in the loss of as much as 2,054 square miles of land between 2016 and 2030, or an area larger than the state of Delaware.”

  •  The widespread use of new, more efficient drilling techniques, such as horizontal drilling did not hit its stride in the “shale boom” until about 2008, two-thirds the way through the time period CAP uses to present its land use data. Therefore the data does not take into consideration the land use and productivity gains realized by recent developments. Horizontal drilling, a crucial aspect of the domestic oil and gas boom, has been a critical tool in helping the US oil and gas industry reduce their land use.
  • The National Park Service in a December 2008 touted the spatial advantages of horizontal drilling in their federally-protected lands: “One of the benefits of horizontal well completions is the ability to site multiple wells on one location. So while the individual sites may be much larger, the overall disturbance on an acres/well basis could end up being less than in the past. “
  • The environmental group EarthWorks also recognizes the land use benefits of horizontal drilling, stating in their own report: “The benefits of directional drilling are numerous. Using these techniques, companies can drill a number of wells in different directions from one well pad (multilateral wells), which can decrease overall surface disturbance by reducing the number of well pads required to drain an oil or gas field.”
  • Furthermore, efficiencies brought by new innovations in drilling make wells more productive, therefore even further reducing the amount of wells, and land, needed to meet oil demand. Less well pads also mean less land cleared for access roads, which reduces local air and noise impacts. The energy production process in America has changed greatly since CAP’s first data point of 2000, and as seen above, the energy industry continues to make progress with innovations that reduce the amount of land required for oil and gas development.

CAP: “According to the EPA, the combustion of a barrel of crude oil results in approximately 0.43 metric tons of carbon pollution. If U.S. production increases by an average of 3.3 million barrels per day between 2015 and 2035—the high range from the NERA report and the highest estimate in the reports CAP reviewed—then the combustion of those resources will result in more than 515 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.

  • This line of logic suggests an assumption that oil exports would add to the current rate of global oil consumption and therefore trigger carbon emissions directly proportional to the oil produced. However, that is a faulty assumption and belies a misunderstanding of the global energy market. Much of the American oil shipped abroad would in fact be replacing oil from other sources, like unfriendly nations who use oil as a geopolitical tool of influence. This would mean that our allies can use oil from a more stable and secure provider that produces these resources under much stricter environmental standards. So there is less of an additive effect in consumption, but rather more of a substitutional effect.
  • This was echoed by Senator Mark Warner, Democrat from Virginia, at a recent Atlantic Council study release event that oil exports: “The World is using a certain amount of hydrocarbons. I candidly believe that American hydrocarbons are both extracted in a cleaner, more efficient way than Venezuela, then Russian… I believe you’re talking here about substitution, not increasing, carbon footprint.”
  • There is, however, one study by the Government Accountability Office that predicts, due to a slight increase in transportation and therefore some higher consumption of fuel, carbon emissions could increase by 22 million metric tons per year due to U.S. oil exports. This is approximately 4 percent of the CAP prediction, which relies on the inaccurate assumption that all of the exported crude would create its own additional consumption market.
  • In terms of total climate impact, there were 32 billion tons of global carbon emissions in 2014. An additional 22 million tones works out to be about .00069 of global carbon output, making it a negligible impact. This point was made by a panelist in a Senate hearing on oil exports: “In the context of this hearing,” says American Enterprise Institute energy & environment scholar Benjamin Zycher, “the effect of the impact of ending the export ban in terms of climate change issues, which is an issue you have raised, is literally zero.”

CAP: “Recent public opinion research commissioned by CAP found that Americans are hesitant to abandon the pursuit of greater energy independence and are deeply skeptical of proposals to increase U.S. crude oil exports.”

  • In a recent national survey of registered voters, 69 percent of those polled support “Allowing American oil producers to sell crude oil to customers in countries who are trading partners.” Given a choice between two policies related to the sale of crude oil, 65% of voters say that “American oil producers should be allowed to sell crude oil to customers in the U.S. and to customers in countries who are trading partners,” while 31% of voters say “the federal government should mandate that American oil producers sell crude oil only to customers in the U.S.”

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