A U.S. agency is considering how the country could export crude oil and natural gas from deepwater ports as the domestic drilling boom adds pressure for Washington to relax trade restrictions and approve shipments of fuel.
The U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, is seeking comment on a proposed policy to evaluate applications for building and operating offshore deepwater ports for exporting U.S. oil and natural gas.
The agency, part of the U.S. Transportation Department, quietly issued a notice in the Federal Register in October about the rule that received little attention.
Congress has banned most U.S. crude exports since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s led to fears of petroleum shortages. As drilling for natural gas has boomed in recent years, the Obama administration has approved several projects to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, that could start shipping in the next few years.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and the incoming chairman of her chamber's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter to the director of MARAD on Monday, expressing support for the agency's efforts to prepare for future exports of oil and gas from deepwater ports.
Murkowski said a "modernized energy policy that allows American deepwater energy to compete globally will strengthen our economy and enhance our national security."
MARAD said when it proposed the rule that it intends to use existing deepwater port regulations for the review, signaling that companies that want to build such export facilities would not have to contend with a complicated new application process.
Murkowski has met with Obama administration officials in her quest to reverse the oil export ban. If the administration does not take steps to relax the ban, she has said she will introduce legislation to do so.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)