* US should be open to exporting light sweet crude-EIA head
* Gulf coast refining hub configured to handle heavy crude
* Debate over energy exports growing with rising U.S. output
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, June 27 (Reuters) - The United States should be open to exporting domestically produced crude oil, the head of the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday, arguing that such exports could actually benefit the U.S. economy.
Adam Sieminski, the former Deutsche Bank economist who was sworn in as EIA administrator earlier this month, said selling U.S. oil abroad could help provide a market for light sweet crude produced from shale formations in places like North Dakota, since the Gulf coast refining hub is more suited to process heavier crudes.
With the shale boom dramatically increasing U.S. oil and gas output, U.S. energy export policy is getting a closer look.
“I’m not sure we should just automatically assume that would be bad,” Sieminski told reporters at a conference focused on EIA’s annual energy outlook, referring to U.S. oil exports.
“It might actually be a way to grow the economy, create jobs and ultimately help reduce prices,” Sieminski added.
Even if the United States continues to be a net importer of crude oil, Sieminski said it might make sense to export some light sweet crude produced from shale and to continue to use heavy crude in the refineries on the Gulf coast.
Some lawmakers argue that the Obama administration needs to focus on keeping newly tapped domestic resources in the United States to keep prices low, while some in industry say the government should allow the market to determine the necessary course for exports.
While crude oil products such as gasoline and diesel can be exported from the United States, the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires a presidential waiver for the sale of most unrefined crude oil abroad, essentially blocking exports.
The United States is expected to import 8.49 million barrels per day of crude oil in 2012, about 45 percent of U.S. oil consumption, according to EIA data.
The EIA is the independent statistical arm of the Energy Department. The agency does not advocate for specific policy positions, Sieminski said.
Sieminski’s comments come as the Energy Department weighs whether it is in the country’s interest to sell more of the nation’s excess natural gas to other countries.
Opponents have raised concerns that natural gas exports could lead to higher prices and hurt resurgent manufacturing sector, but drillers say exports are needed to alleviate the glut of gas in the market and keep output going strong.
The Energy Department must approve gas exports to all but a handful of countries that have free trade agreements with the United States. (Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)