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OUR OPINION: Lift America's embargo on exporting its own oil

On balance, has the OIl Boom been good for North Dakota?

If you answer "yes," then you should favor lifting the U.S. government's ban on exporting oil.

Because one sure result of lifting the ban would be a longer and stronger boom.

There'd be more drilling, which would mean more jobs, more people, more schools, more housing, more money (a lot more money)—in short, more growth, in North Dakota and throughout the Midwest.

That's why North Dakota's U.S. senators are leading the effort to repeal the ban. That's why the North Dakota Legislature supports the repeal and asked that a copy of its support be sent to every member of Congress.

And that's why Minnesota's senators should pledge allegiance to the cause—because oil production in the Bakken has juiced not only the North Dakota economy but also the jobs-and-growth outlook in Minnesota and beyond.

"U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., jointly introduced legislation that would end a 40-year ban on exports of crude oil produced in the U.S.," Oil and Gas Journal reported Wednesday.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and 10 other Republican senators cosponsored the measure. That makes Heitkamp's involvement significant, because at this point, she's the only Democrat to have offered support.

As Heitkamp put it, "the 1970s-era ban on exporting American crude oil is as outdated as the typewriters on which the policy was written. It's past time for an upgrade."

She's right. And if Minnesota's senators take time to weigh the benefits and costs of repealing the ban, we're confident they'll sign on, too.

To understand why, picture North Dakota as a country, not a state. Would it benefit North Dakotans to keep all oil production—and electricity and wheat production, for that matter—in-house?

After all, just think about the low, low prices for gas, electricity and bread that such an arrangement would bring about.

But of course, the reality is that "export bans" would leave North Dakotans much worse off. For one thing, farmers, drillers and coal-miners couldn't make much money in such a small market, so their production would fall. For another, North Dakotans themselves would be a lot poorer than they are now, because so many fewer dollars would be flowing their way from out of state.

Far better for North Dakotans (and Coloradans and Rhode Islanders) to "export"—that is, to sell their wares to willing buyers, wherever those buyers can be found. And that's true even though the trade leads to North Dakotans "importing" products that easily could be made in-state, such as gasoline and bread.

Basically, the same holds true at the national level, especially for wheat, oil and other commodities. Trade constraints twist the market in ways that leave the population worse off. Easing constraints untangles the twists, encourages investment and lets producers meet demands more efficiently.

That's how it works with cars, corn, computers and cell phones, as Americans know.

And that's how it works with oil, too.

There is, however, one objection to lifting the ban that's worth considering, because it reflects something real: the sense that oil production would go up.

As Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth said in a recent statement, "a repeal would increase fracking, putting communities at even greater risk of air and water pollution and earthquakes."

Well—exactly, at least as far as increasing fracking is concerned. That's a feature, not a bug, of repealing the ban.

It all comes back to our original question: On balance, has the Oil Boom been a net plus for North Dakota?

For that matter, has it benefited the United States?

The answer to both questions clearly is "yes." Which means Congress should lift the oil-export ban, because doing so would make a good thing even better.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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