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Republican senator urges Obama to lift U.S. crude export ban

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (L), with her husband Verne Martell (C), takes part in a ceremonial re-enactment of her swearing-in by Vi
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) (L), with her husband Verne Martell (C), takes part in a ceremonial re-enactment of her swearing-in by Vi

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to lift a ban on exporting U.S.-produced crude oil, stepping up pressure on the administration to allow producers involved in the domestic energy boom to gain access to global markets.

"Lifting the ban will help create jobs, boost the economy and keep our production at record levels," Murkowski, from Alaska and the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a letter to Obama.

While U.S. energy companies are allowed to export oil products, including gasoline and jet fuel, a presidential waiver from current laws is required to sell most crude oil abroad.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Outer Continental Shelf Leasing Act effectively bar exports for now.

"While I believe you retain the executive authority necessary to lift the ban on crude oil exports, if you need legislative support from the Congress in order to do so, you will always have a willing partner from Alaska," Murkowski said.

Murkowski, whose oil-rich state is the only one that can already export crude, released a report in Washington last week aimed at triggering debate among lawmakers on whether the country should ease the restrictions.

While a reversal of the ban on U.S. crude exports is a "very real risk" to the lower prices of North American crude oil compared to global crudes - potentially increasing costs for refiners - one oil analyst said he doesn't expect any action on that front this year.

"The rhetoric is really going to ramp up, but I don't think the policy is going to change this year," Chi Chow, an oil and refining analyst for Macquarie Equities Research, said during an energy outlook presentation on Tuesday.

Chow said lawmakers would first have to convince the public that exporting U.S. crude is good policy, on the tails of years of talk about the need for energy independence.

"No politician in an election year will go down this path," he said.

Murkowski does not at this stage plan to introduce legislation to lift the ban, but she is willing to consider taking such action if the president does not act, said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for the senator.

(Additional reporting by Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Ros Krasny, Jeffrey Benkoe and Meredith Mazzilli and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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