An ominous note in the happy melody of increased gasoline exports

As I reported last week, the U.S. has been on track to become a net exporter of petroleum products for the first time in 62 years — and, sure enough, the U.S. actually passed that important milestone this month. CNN Money reports:

The United States is awash in gasoline. So much so, in fact, that the country is exporting a record amount of it.

The country exported 430,000 more barrels of gasoline a day than it imported in September, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That is about twice the amount at the start of the year, and experts and industry insiders say the trend is here to stay.

But a tweet from trade lawyer Scott Lincicome redirected my attention to the very bottom of the CNN Money Article — to a couple of paragraphs that quote an oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. The analyst’s quotes are excellent — but the topic he’s addressing is ominous. The relevant portion:

Still, [analyst Tom Kloza] cautioned against restrictions on exports of diesel or gasoline, a move he expects politicians to at least talk about in 2012.

There’s nothing forcing oil companies to bring crude to the United States to refine, Kloza said, noting that the refining industry employs thousands of workers.

“If you restrict exports, you’d really be looking for trouble,” Kloza said. “You’d just see the refining and the jobs go offshore.”

I bring this up because, in response to my earlier post, a number of commenters complained about high gas prices — and understandably so. Demand for gasoline in the U.S. could hit the lowest level in a decade next year, yet U.S. consumers will likely still pay record-high prices for gas.

But any complaint consumers make to Washington about gas prices will be met with the sort of solution the federal government typically offers — more regulation. That, in turn, would lead to the typical wages of more regulation — in this case, the unintended consequence of lost jobs.

In fact, what we need is less government involvement in the energy sector. As I also wrote in my last post, to be a net exporter of petroleum products is not the same as to be energy independent. But energy independence would almost assuredly lower prices at the pump, as U.S. oil refining companies would no longer have to pay OPEC-manipulated prices for crude.

What will it take to be energy independent? Two ideas off the top of my head: Really reopen the Gulf to drilling with a streamlined permitting process and frack, baby, frack.