The International Energy Agency estimates that in 2012 the United Kingdom depended on Russia for 12 percent of its crude oil imports, a relatively modest proportion when compared to the Netherlands (31 percent) and Poland (96 percent). All told, Russian oil accounts for approximately one-third of European Union imports. Meanwhile, Italy receives some 21 percent of its imported crude from Libya, and other key partners — India, Japan, and South Korea — bank on steady access to the Middle East for some two-thirds of their oil imports, even continuing to purchase Iranian petroleum under the sanctions regime.
European allies, struggling to diversify away from Russia, would be able to receive U.S. domestic oil almost immediately. Unlike liquefied natural gas projects, which take years to build and cost billions of dollars, large-scale infrastructure is not necessary for the oil trade.
For more than 40 years, U.S. laws have tightly restricted crude oil exports. This antiquated regulatory architecture must be modernized. Congress could repeal these restrictions and still preserve the emergency authority of the executive branch to intervene in cases of national security, as the president’s emergency powers are derived from entirely separate laws.
However, President Obama already has the authority, explicitly delegated by Congress, to allow for shipments of domestic oil. This would be consistent with the White House’s 2015 National Security Strategy, which calls to “promote diversification of energy fuels, sources, and routes.” The president may make exemptions “based on the purpose for export, class of seller or purchaser, country of destination, or any other reasonable classification or basis,” as provided for in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. Companies may submit applications, and the Commerce Department will consider them “on a case-by-case basis”. With production and storage at record highs, crude oil is arguably no longer in “short supply.”
Past administrations led by presidents from both parties — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — used executive authority to boost exports of refined products or crude oil when market conditions warranted. Should President Barack Obama make such a determination today, he would have my full support.
The United States is producing more energy today than at any point in its history. There is simply no reason — legal, political or economic — for our nation to refuse to sell energy to our friends and allies.