The United States passed another milestone on the way to lifting a ban on crude oil exports as the lower house of Congress voted in favour on Friday.
The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 261 to 159 and was cheered by its supporters, which includes most of the larger integrated oil companies as well as smaller producers.
But the bill’s ultimate passage is still unclear as the Senate is more evenly divided and the White House, which has veto power, remains opposed.
Any lifting of the ban would weigh further on an already saturated world oil market, though non-US oil producers have remained silent for fear of adding fuel to the pro-lifting lobby’s case.
The effort to lift the ban – which has been in place since the oil price shocks of the 1970s – was boosted this year when Lisa Murkowski of oil-dependent Alaska was appointed chairwoman of the Senate’s energy committee.
In August, she won a vote in committee to have the bill sent for a full vote in the Senate.
Those arguing in favour of lifting the restrictions include Doug Suttles, the chief executive of Encana and leader of one group of companies lobbying for the law change.
He has conceded that it might lead to higher crude oil prices, but contends it won't necessarily translate to higher petrol prices that would hurt US consumers. Those opposing the bill argue that it will hit consumers and could cost jobs in refining. "Polls show that most Americans do not want to export US crude, and the partisan divide in the House vote today reflects that fact," said Jay Hauck, a spokesman for The Crude Coalition, which represents a number of refiners.
“Every American household is saving $700 or more this year from lower fuel prices because refiners are passing on savings to US consumers,” Mr Hauck said.
Among those also opposing are unions including US Steelworkers and environmental organisations such as The Sierra Club.
Last week, the US energy secretary Ernest Moniz told Congress that studies showed lifting the ban would have a very limited effect and that the administration regarded moving towards low-carbon energy as a higher priority.
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