California's hard-pressed independent oil producers will get good news this morning as the Clinton Administration releases details of an unpublished but long-awaited study of lifting the current ban on Alaskan crude oil exports.
The Energy Department cost-benefits study predicts that ending the ban would create as many as 7,000 jobs in the California and Alaska oil industries. It also estimates a boost to the federal treasury--mostly from higher oil-tax revenues--of as much as $284 million annually.
The independents, along with British Petroleum Co., have long lobbied to end the ban they say forces oil that would otherwise be sold in Asia into the glutted California market, depressing regional crude prices. The independents argue that the ban has cost the state 32,000 oil industry jobs since 1985 as it has stifled investment and production in California's vast oil fields.
Opposition has come chiefly from U.S. maritime unions and shippers, who have been guaranteed the tanker jobs by a federal law controlling marine traffic between U.S. ports. That federal law does not apply to exports.
Now such opposition has apparently ended in a still-unannounced agreement between BP--the big Alaska producer hoping to enter the Asian market--and the maritime interests. Though oil company executives have declined to confirm the details, BP apparently will agree to use U.S. crews and ships in any tanker traffic from Alaska to Japan, the expected destination for much of the surplus Alaskan crude.
"We understand that the unionized shippers and the oil and gas companies and their unions have been coming up with a win-win solution," William White, assistant energy secretary, confirmed to The Times "And we are encountering many people in Congress and union leaders who have historically opposed the export of Alaskan North Slope oil, who have this past week come to us and said that they have reversed their position."
Though the Clinton Administration has yet to take a formal position on the ban, several high Administration officials have said that the ban should be overturned if the Energy Department study finds such a move to be cost-effective.
Though the study makes no specific recommendation on the ban, White said, highlights of the study show significant economic benefits to the West Coast oil industry:
* If world oil prices remain low, the study estimates a net job gain in the California and Alaska oil industry of 6,500 in 1994 and 1995, dropping to 6,000 jobs total during the period 1996 to 2000. If world oil prices rise, the early job increase would be less--4,800 in 1994-1995--but gains would be greater later on: up to 7,000 jobs from 1996 through 2000.
* Those numbers would be even higher if the apparent pact with the maritime industry is formalized, since the study estimates that lifting the ban could otherwise jeopardize 230 to 494 U.S. shipping jobs in 1994 and 1995, using figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation's maritime administration.
* California crude oil price hikes from ending the ban would increase federal revenues by $20 million to $25 million annually at the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve, near Bakersfield, currently the nation's seventh-largest producing field. Adding increased federal tax revenue from the expected higher sales of other oil producers would bring the annual federal benefit to $284 million from $50 million.
* Higher crude prices would give producers incentives to make new investments in existing fields, lessening "pressures for new production in frontier and wilderness areas," White said. These investments are particularly important for the North Slope, where production has been declining in recent years.
* No "significant" impact on consumer gasoline prices at the pump would be expected, according to White. Independent producers will agree, saying that retail gasoline prices are tied to world, not regional, crude prices. However, some retail analysts have predicted price hikes in California of up to 6 cents a gallon.
* Some West Coast refiners, which the study found to have higher profit margins than the rest of the industry, could be hurt by a rise in their crude oil feedstock prices.
Atlantic Richfield Co. and Exxon Corp., two other big Alaska crude producers, consume virtually all their production in their own refineries and distribution networks and would not be significantly affected by a lifting of the ban.
The ban dates from the oil crises of the 1970s, when Congress was considering legislation to enable construction of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline to bring crude oil from Alaska's remote North Slope south across the state to the year-round port of Valdez.
At a time when angry Americans were waiting in gas lines, the ban was included to assure U.S. control of the domestic crude as well as jobs for the U.S. maritime fleet.
"The world has changed," White said. For one thing, he noted, when the ban was passed no strategic reserves existed--such as the 600 million barrels now stockpiled at Elk Hills--beyond what is produced for sale, to protect the nation against foreign oil boycotts and other crises.
Most observers expect only 150,000 barrels a day to be diverted from the Alaskan production to Asian markets, White added. U.S. consumption is about 16 million barrels daily, with 7 million barrels of that from foreign producers.
White expects to detail findings from the report in Monterey, Calif., today at the annual meeting of the California Independent Petroleum Assn., which has lobbied forcefully to end the ban.