'Like Handing Out Blankets Affected With Smallpox': US Called to End Oil Exports to Thwart Climate Crisis

Read time: 3 mins
Oil tanker at the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal on the Houston Ship Channel

By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams. Originally published on Common Dreams under CC BY-SA 3.0 US.

new report released Tuesday by Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA found that reinstating the U.S. crude oil export ban Congress lifted in 2015 would slash global carbon emissions by up to 181 million tons of CO2-equivalent each year — a reduction comparable to shuttering dozens of coal-fired power plants.

Given the significant impact it would have in the fight against the global climate crisis, Oil Change and Greenpeace demanded that the next president and Congress commit to reviving the crude oil export ban as part of a broad and just transition away from fossil fuel production, which the Trump administration has worked to increase.

The next president, the groups note, has the “legal authority to reinstate crude oil export restrictions by declaring a national climate emergency.” Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, have both committed to ending crude oil exports if elected.

“Lifting the crude oil export ban has triggered out of control expansion in U.S. oil production, primarily in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico,” Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. program director at Oil Change, said in a statement. “Expansion in oil production has sparked a crisis of local air and water pollution, and an epidemic of gas flaring and venting that is accelerating climate change in real time.”

“Our elected leaders in Washington must do everything they can to limit oil development,” said Apostol, “not roll out the red carpet for Big Oil to dig up more of the very oil making our climate crisis worse every day.”

In their 18-page report, the groups detail how U.S. crude oil production and exports exploded in the wake of Congress' decision to lift the decades-old ban — smuggling it into an end-of-year omnibus spending bill — following intensive lobbying from the fossil fuel industry.

“Since December 2015, exports have grown over 750 percent, from roughly 400,000 [barrels per day] in 2015 to 3.4 million bpd in October 2019,” the report notes. “This is an all-time monthly high, a record currently being broken every few months.”

Juan Mancias, tribal chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Nation of Texas, said his state is the “head of the snake” of U.S. crude oil production.

“Without an export ban in place private companies have been in a free for all at the expense of our Sacred Sites and healthy ecosystems,” Mancias said in a statement. “By lifting the ban it is much like handing out blankets that are affected with smallpox.”

U.S. crude oil exports, 1970-2019
U.S. crude oil exports from 1970-2019. Credit: Energy Information Administration

Even if the U.S. commits to significantly reducing carbon emissions, Oil Change and Greenpeace warned that continuing to export crude oil around the world would “undermine domestic emissions reductions” and fuel the global climate crisis.

“Oil executives have made billions peddling a product they knew would lead to climate emergency — and they show no signs of stopping,” Greenpeace USA senior climate campaigner John Noël said in a statement. “While all of the best available science says we need to phase out fossil fuel production to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the oil industry is doubling down on destruction as usual as it looks to expand.”

“The next Congress and president must confront this polluting industry head-on by reinstating common-sense policy like the crude oil export ban and pursuing a just transition for workers in the fossil fuel economy,” said Noël.

Main image: Oil tanker at Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal along the Houston Ship Channel in 2011. Credit: Roy LuckCC BY 2.0

Get DeSmog News and Alerts