WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top supporter in the U.S. Congress for reversing the 40-year ban on crude oil exports, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, said next year could be the time for a bill on lifting the restriction.
"I think it may be timely then," Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee, told reporters on Thursday when asked if next year would be a good time for legislation.
Lawmakers have avoided introducing a measure to lift the ban ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections amid concern that exporting oil could lead to higher gasoline prices. But the fuel prices are based on global markets and several recent studies from the Brookings Institute and other groups have shown that fuel prices would actually fall.
Murkowski has been issuing reports all year on the merits of lifting the ban, but has not introduced a measure in part because worries remain that lifting the ban could be blamed for any rise in gasoline prices.
While the United States freely exports oil products like gasoline and heating oil, companies must get rarely issued licenses from the Commerce Department to export crude. Congress passed the ban in the 1970s after the Arab oil embargo.
"Our review is it ultimately helps to reduce prices," Murkowski said about lifting the ban, after a Manhattan Institute event.
But Murkowski, who would likely take over as chairman of the energy committee if Republicans win the Senate in the November elections, said more work needs to be done to convince the public that the country is in a period of energy abundance, not scarcity, thanks to the domestic drilling boom.
"I've been giving the issue itself time to ferment," she added.
Many Republicans in the House of Representatives have been slow to warm to lifting the ban, as some are from states that have oil refiners that could see higher costs if the ban was lifted. Others remain concerned about the effects on fuel prices.
Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, recently came out in favor of lifting the ban. He does not have any refineries in his district.
Murkowski has also met with Obama administration officials in recent months to press them to relax parts of the ban.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)