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    Newly available US crude exports help keep oil prices low

    Oil operations in such places as North Dakota have helped create a glut in supplies, keeping prices low.
    Associated Press file
    Oil operations in such places as North Dakota have helped create a glut in supplies, keeping prices low.

    WASHINGTON — Oil prices have remained low despite heightened tensions between two of the world’s big oil-producing countries, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a new law allowing US crude exports helps explain why, the oil industry’s top lobbyist said Tuesday.

    Jack Gerard, chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, said the 3-week-old law lifting a 40-year ban on crude exports has already changed the dynamics of the global oil industry.

    The potential for US exports, combined with the ongoing US oil boom, means ‘‘the United States has come in as a major player’’ in the global oil market, reducing the influence of countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, Gerard said.

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    ‘‘The geopolitics of energy will never be the same,’’ Gerard said in a speech outlining the industry’s priorities for the year.

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    The price of oil fell 30 percent last year, following a 50 percent plunge in 2014. At below $36 a barrel on Tuesday, the price is down more than 2 percent so far this year. Even heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have failed to halt the slide amid a persistent glut of oil.

    Oil prices are likely to remain about where they are until either production drops or the world economy perks up and drives demand higher.

    Gerard said the situation stands in stark contrast to what could have been expected 10 years ago. ‘‘Oil would have spiked,’’ he said.

    The API and other industry groups pushed hard for the measure lifting the export ban, which they called a relic of the 1970s, when an OPEC oil embargo led to fuel rationing, high prices, and iconic images of long lines of cars waiting to fuel up.

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    The ban was lifted as a part of a massive, year-end budget deal approved by Congress and signed by President Obama last month.

    Despite that victory — and a surge in oil and natural gas production in the past seven years — Gerard criticized the Obama administration for imposing what he called unnecessary regulations on oil and gas drilling, especially on federal lands. Most of the increased drilling has occurred on state and private lands.

    Gerard also criticized Obama’s plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants and took aim at the president’s rejection of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, saying it was based on ‘‘political ideology’’ rather than sound policy.

    ‘‘The stated reason for denying the pipeline — environmental protection — was contradicted’’ by Obama’s own State Department, Gerard said, noting the department issued five reports that determined the pipeline would not significantly affect carbon pollution levels.

    Rejection of the pipeline actually could increase carbon emissions by 42 percent due to an increase in truck, rail, and barge traffic needed to transport oil from Canada’s western tar sands to refineries along the US Gulf Coast, Gerard said.

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    Gerard also renewed his call for the administration to scrap a Renewable Fuel Standard that promotes corn-based ethanol and other alternative fuels, labeling the mandate another relic of the past.

    Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, called the ethanol mandate ‘‘a resounding success’’ that is doing exactly what Congress intended when it approved the law in 2005. ‘‘Not only is it creating jobs, it is revitalizing rural economies, reducing harmful emissions, improving our environment, and reducing our dangerous de-pendence on foreign oil and fossil fuel,’’ Buis said.

    Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, said low oil prices make this year ‘‘an especially good time to articulate a workable ‘keep it in the ground’ strategy’’ to address global warming.

    ‘‘We can all do the math’’ on climate change, Snape said. ‘‘Most of this stuff needs to stay put. Exports that benefit the industry only’’ move the United States in the wrong direction, he said.