U.S. economists back increasing oil, gas exports

The vast majority of economists surveyed this month by The Associated Press say lifting restrictions on exports of oil and natural gas would help the economy even if it meant higher fuel prices for American consumers.
By JONATHAN FAHEY, Associated Press Published: April 30, 2014
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— Whether to allow more exports of U.S. oil and natural gas has become a matter of political debate in Washington. But to economists, the answer is clear: The nation would benefit.

The vast majority of economists surveyed this month by The Associated Press say lifting restrictions on exports of oil and natural gas would help the economy even if it meant higher fuel prices for consumers.

More exports would encourage investment in oil and gas production and transport, create jobs, make oil and gas supplies more stable and reduce the U.S. trade deficit, they say.

As domestic energy production has boomed, drilling companies have pushed to be allowed to sell crude oil and natural gas overseas, where they can command higher prices. Such exports are restricted by decades-old energy security regulations.

Those opposed to opening trade say exports could make it more expensive for Americans to heat their homes and fill up their cars.

But even economists who think exports might increase fuel prices for U.S. consumers — an open question — say the overall benefit to the economy would outweigh any possible harm. It would be better to allow the exports and use tax breaks or other methods to help those struggling with higher prices, they say.

“The economy in general is better off if we can sell something to someone and bring money into the economy,” said Jerry Webman, chief economist at Oppenheimer Funds. “I’d rather deal with any side effects directly than limit our ability to do business with the world.”

The AP survey collected views of private, corporate and academic economists on a range of issues. Of the 30 economists who participated, nearly 90 percent responded that more exports of oil and gas would help the U.S. economy.

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