An offshore oil platform is seen in Huntington Beach, California September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Timothy Gardner | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON The Obama administration on Tuesday bowed to months of rising strain over a 40-year-old ban on exports of most home crude, taking two steps anticipated to unleash a wave of ultra-light shale oil onto international markets.

The Bureau of Industry and Security, or BIS, which regulates export controls, mentioned it had granted permission to “some” corporations to promote frivolously handled condensate overseas. Condensate is a type of ultra-light crude.

Some two dozen vitality corporations had requested the company for clarification on permissible exports earlier this yr, however till Tuesday these requests had been placed on indefinite maintain.

The BIS additionally launched steering within the type of ceaselessly requested questions, or FAQs, to elucidate what sort of oil was usually allowed below the ban, the primary effort by the administration to make clear a problem that has brought on confusion and consternation in vitality markets for greater than a yr.

The two measures are clearest indicators but that the administration is able to enable extra of the booming U.S. shale oil manufacturing to be bought abroad, the place drillers have mentioned it will possibly fetch a premium of $10 a barrel or extra.

They comply with a yr of murky messages and widespread uncertainty over what’s or will not be allowed below a commerce restriction that critics say is a relic of a bygone age, when oil was seen as scarce after the 1970s Arab oil embargo.

A home drilling growth of the previous six years has reworked the United States into an vitality powerhouse, boosting U.S. manufacturing by greater than 50 p.c and reversing a long time of decline.

Output of very mild oil has been particularly robust, resulting in a glut that threatens to overwhelm home demand. The constraints helped gasoline bumper earnings for refiners similar to Valero Energy Corp (VLO.N) and PBF Energy Inc (PBF.N), however angered drillers similar to Hess Corp (HES.N) that say they have been promoting at a reduction.

Jamie Webster, the senior director of oil markets at analysis agency IHS, mentioned the FAQ “takes the leash off of (the U.S. Department of) Commerce” and indicators it could take further motion on crude exports after a number of months of inaction.

While doubtless to attract broad help from many quarters, the measures additionally open the Obama administration to assault by environmentalists and Democrats who may even see it encouraging extra hydraulic fracking and as a sop to large oil corporations.


How the measures will have an effect on flows of condensate is unsure, notably given the dramatic hunch in international oil markets, the place costs have almost halved for the reason that summer time.

An administration official mentioned that the oil market – not a “fairly arcane clarification” in tips – would in the end decide how a lot oil is exported. That echoed the Obama administration’s coverage on exports of liquefied pure gasoline, or LNG, that are additionally now usually allowed.

The steps on Tuesday have been “certainly not designed to add or detract from what can be exported. We are trying to make the boundary line clearer,” mentioned the official.

In its FAQ, which the company has been engaged on for many of this yr, the BIS confirmed or clarified quite a lot of nuanced points associated to the foundations, together with:

* Confirmation that lease condensate processed via a distillation tower is taken into account a petroleum product, and subsequently might be exported with out constraint.

* Clarification of what constitutes “distillation” for export, together with the truth that strain discount alone, and flash drums with so-called heater-treaters or separators, wouldn’t be adequate to qualify oil for abroad gross sales.

* A reminder that the majority petroleum merchandise could also be “exported to most of the world without a license,” a message seen by many analysts as blessing the method of self-certification.

* And clarification that “a minimum amount of mixing” between exportable overseas crude and restricted home crude could also be allowed, a word doubtless making it simpler to ship Canadian crude via U.S. pipelines and ports.

(For the FAQ, see: here)


Uncertainty about what sort of petroleum might be shipped overseas has annoyed oil market gamers for the reason that BIS, an workplace of the Commerce Department, quietly gave permission in 2013 to a small firm, Peaker Energy, to export minimally handled mild oil referred to as condensate.

Last spring BIS gave permission to export handled condensate in non-public letters to 2 different corporations, Pioneer Natural Resources Co (PXD.N) and Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD.N).

The non-public nature of the communications between the federal government and the three vitality corporations left a variety of different drillers at the hours of darkness about investing in costly infrastructure to course of condensate.

One firm, Australia’s BHP (BHP.AX), mentioned final month it will press forward with exports with out having obtained a proper approval from the BIS, however different vitality corporations have been reluctant to comply with swimsuit with out additional steering.

Domestic strain has additionally grown. Several lawmakers within the House of Representatives and Senate have mentioned that until vitality corporations can export oil to Asia and Europe, the drilling growth will finally choke by itself output.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Jonathan Leff in New York; Editing by Jessica Resnick-Ault, Bill Trott and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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