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Heidi Heitkamp, methane rule
North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Sen. Heitkamp Speaks at Williston Economic Development Conference on Record U.S. Oil Exports

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp addressed the Williston Economic Development Corporation’s conference with energy industry and community leaders from Midland, TX, to discuss issues in the oil and gas sector. She also talked about her work to successfully reach a deal to lift the 40 year-old ban on exporting domestic oil, which has led to record U.S. oil exports in recent weeks and helped to boost the oil industry and jobs, and economic development in western North Dakota.

Heitkamp played a central role in negotiating the bipartisan deal that led to the ban on exporting oil being lifted in 2015, which has led to these record levels and fueled additional investment and prosperity for communities across the state and country – in particular in oil producing regions like Williston and Midland. For more than a year and a half, Heitkamp worked with Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska to build support for lifting the ban, reach a deal to gain bipartisan support for it, and get enough votes to change this outdated policy.

Click here for a timeline of her work to lift the ban.

During the conference, officials from Williston and Midland shared information about their experiences handling boom and bust cycles, and how advancements in technology and smart policies like the end of the export ban may produce more long-term stability for oil production and communities who have typically followed the trajectory of the industry. They also discussed ways to ensure that development in the oil patch is sustainable and has long-term benefits for the surrounding communities.

Heitkamp also explained her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative which she launched in 2014 to help address the emerging challenges in the state from the energy and population booms – like increases in crime, drugs, and human trafficking — and bring a greater focus to keeping North Dakota’s communities strong and families safe. She released her Strong & Safe Communities Report in August 2016.

“From my early days in the U.S. Senate, one of my top priorities was convincing members of both parties that the outdated, decades-old ban on exporting U.S oil was just plain dumb policy, and I didn’t give up the fight until we finally ended the ban,” Heitkamp said. “For oil and gas producers and workers in North Dakota and across the country, lifting the ban has led to record U.S. oil exports in recent weeks, as well as more market stability and long-term growth opportunities that will continue to provide good paying jobs and boost communities like Williston and the entire Bakken region. Having the folks from Midland come to Williston to talk about best practices is a great way for both cities to learn from each other and promote sustainable communities in the oil patch. To do that, it also means acknowledging challenges that could arise and why it’s so important to make sure that even during times of economic growth, keeping communities strong and safe remains the priority. It’s encouraging to have folks from Midland to our great state – and I’ll continue to fight for this vital industry and jobs that are key to North Dakota’s economy.”

Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently said that U.S. crude oil exports hit a fresh record of 2.57 million barrels per day (mbd) three weeks ago — the highest level since Congress lifted the 40 year-old ban on exporting crude oil in 2015. According to EIA, U.S. overall crude production is also at record highs.

In 2014, Heitkamp began educating other senators about the need to lift the ban on exporting oil, and worked with top White House officials and leaders in both chambers of Congress to craft a plan that had enough votes to pass the Senate.

Here are statements from members of Congress about Heitkamp’s critical work to lift the ban.

In addition to lifting the ban on oil exports, Heitkamp’s bipartisan deal included a five year retroactive extension of the Production Tax Credit through 2019, which supports wind energy, and a five year extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which supports solar energy. The bill also included a three year extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports the development of outdoor recreation areas.

In a major bipartisan victory for North Dakota energy, earlier this year Heitkamp successfully passed legislation – now signed into law – that will encourage efforts to advance carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technology. CCUS has the potential to and ramp-up enhanced oil recovery efforts in the Bakken.

Last year, Heitkamp successfully pushed the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) to conduct an updated assessment of oil and gas resources in the Bakken Formation and Three Forks Formation. The next assessment wasn’t supposed to take place until 2020, but Heitkamp pushed for a quicker timeline because past assessments reinforced that dramatically more oil and natural gas were available because of updated technologies. Since mid-2014, in part because of the drop in the price of oil, the industry has been particularly innovative with its development and production to stay competitive, which has led to lower costs and more extraction.


Heitkamp was an early and vocal leader in Congress, working to lift the oil export ban by:


  • Introducing bipartisan legislation with Murkowski to end the ban on exporting oil. The two senators crafted and introduced bipartisan, complementary bills expressly intended to merge which went through the senators’ respective committees – Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs and Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Their bills passed out of both committees. Prior to introducing their legislation, Heitkamp and Murkowski first pushed together for an amendment to lift the ban to legislation that would give Congress the ability to review any nuclear deal with Iran. They then worked together on two similar amendments to the National Defense Reauthorization Act.


  • Meeting with senators and educating them about why lifting the ban made sense. For nearly a year, Heitkamp took the time to meet with Democratic and Republican senators to explain the economic, national security, and energy arguments for lifting the ban. As a result of her efforts, many senators publicly expressed a willingness to discuss lifting the oil export ban. Heitkamp posted on Medium explaining the reasons for lifting the oil export ban.


  • Advocating for strong bipartisan support for lifting the ban. Though in favor of standalone legislation to lift the ban — as her legislation proposed — Heitkamp long said that to actually get bipartisan support to lift the ban, there needs to be a bipartisan deal. Heitkamp publicly made the case for such action during a National Journal event about lifting the oil export ban where she said she believed Congress could lift the ban if senators come together, negotiate, and agree to pair such a policy with other provisions perhaps dealing with renewable energies to build more support from Democrats.


  • Helping pave the way for and participated in negotiations over several months the led to a bipartisan deal. Over several months, Heitkamp met with congressional Democrats and Republicans, including Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) who led legislation in the House to lift the ban, as well as top leaders at the White House — including the president and chief of staff – and top leaders and diplomats from the European Union to discuss how to reach a deal to lift the ban on exporting oil. Such discussions framed the efforts for Heitkamp and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich who, working with Senate Democratic leadership, led efforts to determine how a package to lift the ban paired with Democratic priorities might work. Heitkamp then worked closely with Senate leadership as they negotiated a final bipartisan deal that included key pieces from her standalone legislation. That deal was signed into law in December 2015.