[Vision2020] Experts Who Sold the Idea of Oil Exports Proven Very Wrong Very Fast

Ted Moffett starbliss at gmail.com
Fri Oct 13 19:47:10 PDT 2017

Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett

Experts Who Sold the Idea of Oil Exports Proven Very Wrong Very Fast

Justin Mikulka <https://www.desmogblog.com/user/justin-mikulka> | October
11, 2017

As Bloomberg put it
today “crude oil gushes out of the U.S. like never before.” U.S. exports of
crude oil just hit a new record: nearly two million barrels
day. And while at DeSmog we predicted that “lifting the oil export ban will
result in large increases in fracking for oil in the U.S.,”
industry experts at the time were making very different claims.

“It’s universally agreed in the short term that we won’t see a flood of
ships leaving for foreign ports because the economics aren’t right,” Sandy
Fielden, director of energy analytics at respected consulting firm RBN
said in December 2015, just before the ban on crude oil export lifted.
Fielden was explaining why lifting that ban wouldn't result in a sizable
and ongoing rush to export American crude.

Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy
<http://energypolicy.columbia.edu/> (CGEP) was instrumental
in pushing to lift this export ban. The CGEP report, “Navigating the U.S.
Crude Oil Export Debate
co-authored by the center’s leader Jason Bordoff, said, “we estimate
lifting current crude export restrictions could increase U.S. crude
production anywhere between 0 and 1.2 million barrels per day on average
between now and 2025.”

Zero increase by 2025? Could they have really believed that?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) had its most optimistic
prediction for U.S. oil exports reaching two million barrels per day by
2050. They were only off by three-plus decades.

Industry champion IHS predicted “U.S. crude oil exports reaching 1.4m b/d
by 2020.
And Forbes ran a piece titled, “Why lifting America’s ban on oil exports
won’t matter
in which the author argued that it wasn’t economically feasible to export
oil from the U.S.

And yet, here we are in 2017: All of them proven wrong in short order. The
EIA, for its part, is consistently criticized for its “forecasting flaws
which have produced predictions that are “reliably and obviously wrong
Researchers have regularly acknowledged that predicting energy markets is
really, really hard
and often goes “wildly wrong
*Wrong on Amounts, Wrong on Destination*

In addition to being wrong about how quickly oil companies and commodities
traders would begin exporting U.S. crude oil, energy experts also got wrong
where that oil would go. Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources and
major Trump donor
testified in Congress <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND1Z6REDyC8> that it
was unlikely U.S. oil would be exported to China. And he was wrong. As
of the U.S. outflow is going to Asia.”

To be fair, Hamm was one of the few people predicting explosive growth in
the U.S. fracking industry should the export ban be lifted. He just was not
right about where that oil would be going.

Yet it seems pretty obvious to anyone who could do math. American oil
consumption has been flat and is not predicted to increase.
Meanwhile, China’s consumption is growing rapidly at twice the rate of just
a year ago.

If you are in the business of selling oil, China is the biggest potential
growth market. And now, without the export ban in the way, American shale
reserves can be fracked using government subsidies
and commodities traders can sell oil to the highest bidder.
*Commodities Traders Don’t Care About You*

These days the justifications for lifting the ban look a lot more like
myths — or an outright gift to the U.S. oil industry.

The first myth was that lifting the ban was in the name of U.S. national
security. But this is easily debunked
because where oil goes is up to commodities traders. The largest traders
like Vitol <http://www.vitol.com/> and Trafigura
global companies with no interest in aligning with American
security priorities.

The second myth was that the oil wouldn’t be going to China, just to
strategic American allies. But that's not true either: U.S. crude oil is
flowing to countries like China and Venezuela — the latter nation not
exactly a strategic ally
at this point. But traders need to trade, so the oil goes to the
highest bidder.

The third myth was that the oil industry was motivated to lift the ban out
of consideration for the average American, in order to “help consumers” by
lowering prices at the pump.

However, that would require belief that commodities traders care about
anything other than making money at any cost. Remember Enron? At least they
were an American company.

But as we have heard on recordings of Enron traders, released by CBS News
in 2004, that is not necessarily the case either. Do these traders
<https://www.cbsnews.com/news/enron-traders-caught-on-tape/> sound like
people whose priorities are the well-being of their fellow Americans?

“He just f—s California,” says one Enron employee. “He steals money from
California to the tune of about a million.”

“Will you rephrase that?” asks a second employee.

“OK, he, um, he arbitrages the California market to the tune of a million
bucks or two a day,” replies the first.

That was the case for Enron more than a decade ago. Is the industry that
different today? Back then, we heard nothing about national security, the
American consumer, or whether or not it makes sense to sell U.S. oil to a
country like China. Is the energy industry having those conversations today?

In December of 2015 we posed the following question
on DeSmog:

Will December 2015 be remembered by energy historians for the historic
outcome of the COP21 talks
in Paris, or will it be better known as the time in history when U.S.
politicians once again caved to the oil industry and unleashed decades of
fracking on the country and the climate?

Current evidence would seem to support the latter, particularly as the Trump
administration continues making moves
to lessen U.S. support for the Paris climate accord. And it looks like the
“experts” are now agreeing with DeSmog.

The Houston Chronicle recently reported:
volume of U.S. crude exports should rise to 3 million a day by 2025, driven
by Permian production and pipeline growth, said Kurt Barrow, vice president
of oil markets for IHS Markit.” That is quite a bit higher than the IHS
estimate (1.4 million barrels a day by 2020) before the ban was lifted.

That article also notes that “[t]he most bullish projections have the U.S.
exporting more crude oil than it imports as soon as 2019.”  That means the
U.S. would be exporting approximately five million barrels per day, less
than two years from now.

But we know how accurate those kinds of predictions are.

Main image: Oil industry Credit: Rennett Stowe
CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/>
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