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Freeing Alaskan oil for export

A United States administration dedicated to cost effectiveness could hardly keep on straining at a legislative gnat while swallowing the expensive camel of transporting Alaskan oil to the East Coast. Fortunately some congressmen are already trying to get rid of the gnat in the Export Administration Act that has held up shipment of Alaskan oil to relatively nearby Japan. Next week the US and Japan are scheduled to discuss a swap of Alaskan oil for Japan-bound oil from Mexico. It would be shortsighted for Congress not to follow through promptly in support if such a deal can be equitably arrived at.

The restrictions on exports or exchanges of Alaskan crude go back to 1977 and a not unreasonable legislative concern for protecting US natural resources. They were renewed in 1979 with an exception made for selling oil to Israel under President Carter's guarantee of Israel's oil suppy as part of Mideast peace negotiations. The multiple requirements for authorizing Alaskan oil for any other country are such that a Japanese request for 100,000 barrels a day last year was turned down.

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Meanwhile, nearly half (700,000 barrels) of the North Slope's daily oil production goes by tanker through the Panama Canal to the East Coast. Shipping interests are said to want to keep the lucrative traffic going. And congressmen in the affected states naturally do not want oil supplies to be interrupted.

But any threat of interruption could be met by returning to Alaska for the oil -- perhaps 300,000 barrels a day -- that would otherwise make the shorter trip from Mexico (in exchange for the Alaskan oil going to Japan). A successful exchange would have the merit of reducing Japanese dependence on the long supply routes to the Middle East as well as US dependence on the long route to the North Slope. At the very least such an agreement is worth the fresh study being given it -- and congressional rethinking to match.

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