NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The U.S. is poised to become a net exporter of gasoline for the first time in 60 years.
That's not necessarily great news economically, and it's certainly not much comfort for drivers, who are still paying more than $3.30 a gallon for gasoline. But it does speak to the progress we're making in this country in reducing our addiction to energy. It also provides clues about some of the debate we may hear during the coming election season.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the U.S. exported 430,000 more barrels of gasoline than it imported for the month of September. This is an historic change, because we've been a net importer of gasoline, mostly from Europe, since the 1960s.
Most of the gains we have made in "righting" the trade imbalance in gasoline have been due to declining demand for gas here. Since 2007, the move to more efficient cars and weakness in the economy have caused the daily demand for gasoline to fall from 9.6 million barrels a day to 8.8 million.
This is very good news if you are concerned about the environment, but not so good if you are an oil company. That's because gasoline prices are tied to open financial commodity markets, where the margins for refining crude oil into gasoline have continued to shrink this year. Because gasoline prices are determined globally based on futures trading in New York, the added costs of exporting gas does not help the bottom lines for refiners.
Net exporting of gasoline will not benefit large integrated oil companies like
. Nor will it help the bottom line for independent refiners like
Net exporting of gasoline could easily become a flash point for politicians in the coming election season. It is hard to rationalize sticky and relatively high gasoline prices for domestic drivers when you are a net exporter of refined fuels. Why should people pay $3.20 a gallon if we are awash in gasoline? The calls will go out to halt exports with a per-gallon target in mind from politicians looking to score points with voters.
Most of those ideas are not only dangerous, but also difficult to implement and potentially disastrous to markets that depend upon free flow of refined products connected to pricing generated on global financial markets. Still, I expect the issue to be raised soon: It is too easy to make points with voters when it comes to the price of a gallon of gas.
But the pluses of this news should not be overlooked. We are making progress in limiting our use of gasoline, and we're reversing our trade deficit in a key area.
At time of publication, Dicker held shares of Exxon Mobil.