| WASHINGTON, July 2
WASHINGTON, July 2 Two senators on Wednesday
asked the U.S. Commerce Department to explain why it approved
exports of a form of super-light oil known as condensate, saying
the action may have violated the decades-long ban on U.S. crude
Democrats Robert Menendez and Edward Markey wrote a letter
to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker after a department agency
in late June told two energy companies that condensates that
have been minimally processed could be exported as refined
The companies - Pioneer Natural Resources and
Enterprise Products Partners - had sought clarity from
the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) about whether
stabilized condensates could be exported as a petroleum product,
and thus not require a special license needed to export
unprocessed domestic crude. The Commerce Department agreed that
such condensates could be exported.
Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, and Markey, a committee member, questioned whether
the agency had authority to let the companies export the lightly
processed product under the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation
"Exports of condensate or other light crude oils appear to
be prohibited unless and until the regulation is revised
following notice and public comment," they wrote to Pritzker.
Without a classification as refined products, a presidential
finding that the exports were in the national interest would be
needed to overcome the ban on most U.S. crude exports, according
to the 1975 law.
The law has typically defined processed oil as having passed
through distillation towers, refinery equipment that turns crude
oil into finished products.
Commerce ruled, though, that stabilizers - originally used
to ensure crude and condensate met pipeline specifications - can
also turn certain oil into refined products in a way similar to
A BIS official said last week that the bureau had issued
"commodity class determinations" to the two companies.
Those determinations "do not constitute a change in policy
but are a description of what the regulations are and how they
apply to a particular item. They are deliberately not vehicles
for changing policy," said Kevin Wolf, assistant secretary of
commerce for export administration at the BIS.
Menendez and Markey asked Pritzker for the rulings issued to
Pioneer and Enterprise, as well as any others issued in the past
year "that relate to interpretations of the crude oil export ban
or condensate exports."
They also posed eight questions to Commerce staff, including
the legal rationale for approving condensate exports and whether
the department has expanded or modified the definition of crude
oil as that "which has not been processed through a crude oil
The lawmakers further asked whether other agencies were
involved in the BIS decision and raised concerns that the
rulings skirted the ban.
(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Ros Krasny
and Steve Orlofsky)