Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been gaining momentum in the Democratic presidential primary. Given this new wind in his campaign sails, Sanders is apparently planning various executive orders he would enact upon entering the White House.
One such order, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post, would be reinstituting the crude oil export ban.
In 1975, the export ban was instituted by Congress after concerns over “peak oil” — the idea that oil resources are finite (which, of course, they are) and, more importantly, that America was running out of its reserves.
This notion took root among many contemporary thinkers at the time.
In the late 2000s, however, it was discovered that those reserves, while finite, contained vastly more petrochemical reserves than previously thought.
The crude oil export ban was rescinded during the Obama administration when it was added as a rider in a 2015 omnibus in order to attract GOP congressional support for passage of the bill.
In the five years since the lifting of the ban, however, some environmentalists have criticized the recension for enabling more drilling in the U.S. which they believe is detrimental for the cause of stopping climate change.
Economically, however, this move is credited by many observers as a significant driver of Texas’ booming energy decade. The United States vaulted into the top 10 oil exporters after the ban was lifted and today is the largest producer in the world.
With a vast new energy market opened up, U.S. oil companies were able to ramp up their production.
The U.S. currently tops the world in crude oil production — producing 18 percent of the world’s supply. And Texas is responsible for a large portion of that.
Should a ban be reinstituted today, the U.S. would lose market access for 3.5 million barrels per day of crude oil and 5.8 million barrels of refined products in exports — based on EIA records from the week of January 24.
If natural gas were included in the ban, for 2018 the U.S would have lost 3.6 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas exports — 2.5 Bcf to Mexico and Canada via pipelines and 1 Bcf through liquefied natural gas facilities.
If it were its own country, Texas would be the fourth-largest producer of oil and natural gas.
After the ban was lifted, it allowed the U.S. to supplant Russia as the go-to energy provider in many parts of Europe, including the former Soviet state of Ukraine.
On his desire to reinstate the ban, Sen. Sanders’ campaign website states, “Congress’ decision in 2015 to lift the ban on exporting fossil fuels was a mistake. We must no longer export any fossil fuels.”
“Our coal and natural gas are contributing to increased emissions abroad. We will also end the importation of fossil fuels to end incentives for extraction around the world. We can meet our energy needs and ensure energy security and independence without these imports,” he continued.
The Texan reached out to Bernie Sanders’ Texas offices for further details, but they declined to comment on the proposal.
However, Texas Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick told The Texan, “U.S. oil and natural gas production leads the world because American entrepreneurs, led by Texans, do it better, cheaper and cleaner than our competitors overseas.”
The U.S. is the largest producer of fossil fuels and the competition with OPEC led to a global reduction in oil prices compared to when the market was cornered.
Craddick lamented risking this position, stating, “[An export ban] will threaten the 428,234 Texans that work in the energy sector and raise costs on domestic manufacturers making us all pay more at the pump, on our power bill and in the grocery store. From our ports and Gulf Coast to the world’s most prolific oilfield, the Permian Basin, we are leading and winning. Bernie would undo that and hand it over to the Russians.”
“Bernie’s proposal to reinstate the crude oil export ban is an invitation to Russia and the OPEC countries to once again dictate energy policy to the world,” Craddick concluded.
Earthworks is a climate advocacy watchdog group that maintains a heavy focus on investigating the Permian Basin. They signed onto a letter to all presidential candidates pushing for 10 actions by the next Democratic president without Congress.
Among those include “stop[ping] fossil fuel exports.”
The Texan spoke with Ethan Buckner, an energy campaigner with Earthworks.
“The crude export ban is an essential key to any legitimate chance that we have in the U.S. to meeting the goals laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement [and] to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C,” Buckner emphasized.
Buckner cited two reports — “Carbon Impacts of Reinstating the U.S. Crude Export Ban” and “An Analysis of Oil and Gas Industry Plans for Expansion and Compatibility with Global Emission Limits” — to indicate the production expansion, specifically in the Permian, “could risk the U.S. and the world’s ability to meet climate goals.”
The first report specified that reinstating the ban could result in “a reduction in global emissions from 73 to 165 million metric tons, the equivalent of closing between 19 and 42 coal plants,” Buckner stated.
He added, “The emissions — and methane emissions, specifically (which are said to be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of warming effect) — from the Permian have an almost incalculable climate impact.”
Buckner and Earthworks are also in favor of the Green New Deal (GND) which is estimated to cost anywhere between $51 trillion and $93 trillion dollars.
When asked about the transition period from the status quo to full implementation of the GND and the effects that would have on Texas’ economy, Buckner stated, “Nobody’s talking about turning off the taps tomorrow but we can’t be adding new production that’s going to exacerbate the problem.”
He then added an export ban is “the starting point of accomplishing [those] goals.”
“Texas has a lot to gain from pioneering the clean energy transition, such as for its U.S.-leading wind industry.”
In addition to the export ban, Sanders is also in favor of banning fracking — a process that has actually led to a comparative reduction in emissions. Such a ban, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study, would cost Texas 3.2 million jobs.
The amount of emissions reduction this would provide would depend on if energy producers switched back to coal — the high-emission fuel source largely supplanted by natural gas’ rise from fracking.
While Earthworks is calling on candidates to reinstate the ban by executive order, Buckner says that it is a short-term fix and must eventually be done by Congress. The export ban would likely be one part of a broader executive order declaring a national emergency on climate if Sanders were to become president.
The National Emergencies Act provides the executive office with wide-sweeping powers within 136 specific emergency powers — one of which deals with oil exports and states, “[The] President may impose export licensing requirements or other restrictions on the export of crude oil from the United States for up to 1 year.”
Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist with the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers (TAEP), discussed the effect such a move would have on Texas’ thriving energy sector.
“At the beginning of 2015 we started exporting crude oil and pretty soon about 25 percent of the crude oil produced will be exported,” Ingham first mentioned.
“There’s little doubt that the energy is made less expensive by not only its abundance but also the ability to trade freely around the globe enhances raises people’s quality of life and makes the standards of living better.”
He continued, “That’s clearly a chunk of production and it needs a place to go as we’ve grown domestic production so dramatically.”
Ingham and TAEP believe Texas’ energy sector should be largely regulated by the state — and he sees it being well-regulated so far. There being very little federal land in Texas, he sees no reason for the federal government to insert itself.
About the procedure by which this would be done, Ingham stated, “As an economist, I take umbrage at the notion that any president of the United States believes they can essentially nationalize an industry and they alone get to decide what happens with the products.”
The past few years have seen a renewed focus on country-to-country trade deficits and country-wide trade numbers. However, between mixed and market economies it is not the countries necessarily doing the trading (with exceptions for state-owned entities in places like China), but rather companies within those countries spurred by the demand from consumers.
Therefore, a significant concern raised by Ingham and others over a president prohibiting crude oil exports is that they are not simply guiding policy, but more granularly regulating the actions of individuals in a market.
In the previous crude oil export ban, Ingham pointed out, it was Congress doing the prohibiting, not the president issuing a decree.
Ingham stated that while he still would have disagreed with the ban on the merits, by Congress enacting the original ban, the action had somewhat more legitimate footing on which to stand than a potential executive order.
“When you decide to go down that road of depriving individuals and companies of their private individual and economic liberty to trade across the globe as they see fit, that means really anything is on the table for the president to decide what Americans may engage in economic transactions,” Ingham concluded.
The Texan also received comment from Emma Pabst, an associate with Environment Texas, who supports Sanders’ plan.
Pabst stated, “We’ve lived without it for decades, and we can do it again. To protect Texans from the floods, droughts, and heatwaves of climate change, we need to reduce demand for oil and gas; not supply it.”
“Reinstating the export ban will put Texas on a path towards a better future, saving us the carbon equivalent of closing as many as 42 coal plants, according to a new study by Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA,” she concluded.
It’s worth noting that there are over 428,000 oil and gas workers in Texas — over 62,000 of which work explicitly in crude oil extraction.
The impact that Sanders’ proposal would have on these jobs and one of the most critical industries in Texas is unsurprisingly already coming under scrutiny as the Democratic primary plays out.
James Dickey, the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, told The Texan, “As if there were any question that Bernie was anti-Texan, he removed all doubt with his plan to ban crude oil exports in the United States.”
“Not only would this damage the Texas economy, it would destroy jobs and weaken our nation. Bernie’s radical stances are not just bad, they would be devastating,” he concluded.
The Texas Democratic Party declined to comment on the plan since a contested primary is just now getting underway.
Sen. Sanders has been trending upward in Texas polls of late, but with less than a month until the Lone Star State’s Super Tuesday primary, it remains to be seen if this proposal will factor into Democrat primary voters’ decision-making.
However, if Sanders does secure the nomination, one can bet the house that Republicans in Texas and President Trump will cite his crude oil export proposal early and often on the path to November.
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.