What would happen to the Pacific Northwest if Congress lifted the nation's 40-year-old crude oil export ban? According to the Sightline Institute, a local environmental policy think tank, Cascadia could be transformed into "a speed bump on the fossil fuel highway to Asia."
Amid a new push in Congress to lift the ban, the Sightline Institute is now suing the Obama administration over its alleged failure to fork over documents regarding crude oil exports.
Congress passed the ban in the '70s as an attempt to shore up supply and buffer us from foreign oil embargoes. But now that America's oil business is booming, the oil industry and members of Congress are calling to lift the regulations. US senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced legislation to get rid of the ban, and is leading a charge to turn on the country's crude oil export spigot.
The problem with opening up the crude oil export business, however, is that it could transform the Pacific Northwest. Oregon and Washington are already seeing "bomb train" oil shipments skyrocket as producers in the Bakken push their product to West Coast refineries. Nix the crude oil export ban, environmentalists argue, and Cascadia turns into a petro-transport state, a stop on the War Boys' path to Valhalla—or East Asia, really, in this analogy. Crude oil exports could mean more bomb trains rolling through towns and cities across the state, more oil terminals on the water, more oil barges in Puget Sound.
Back in February, the Sightline Institute filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), asking for documentation regarding export privileges for two companies, Enterprise Products Partners LP and Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (Sightline contends that the BIS weakened the export ban by reportedly granting the two energy companies the ability to export "condensate"—a super-light kind of crude—as refined petroleum.) Four months later, after following up by phone twice, Sightline claims it's still heard nothing about the FOIA request, only that it had been assigned a tracking number. Today, Sightline filed a lawsuit against the BIS in federal court.
"I think this issue has been urgent for several months now and I'm hopeful more people will pay attention to it," Sightline's Eric de Place said. "I think it's urgent because there's Congressional noise, and, frankly, because the Obama administration has been very, very secretive."
De Place isn't the only one worried about what would happen should the ban be lifted. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) has said that Congress should not lift the ban until the Energy Information Agency performs a complete analysis on how the move would affect gasoline prices (because Washington depends on Alaskan crude) and crude-by-rail traffic in the Pacific Northwest. The United Steelworkers also oppose lifting the ban, fearing that refinery jobs would also be exported with crude overseas.
Read Sightline's complaint here.