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Benefits of US oil exports offset costs: Richardson

Easing the U.S. export ban on crude oil may result in slightly higher gasoline prices, but the benefits would outweigh the costs, Bill Richardson said Monday.

The former U.S. energy secretary and two-term New Mexico governor made his comments after Reuters reported on Friday that the Obama administration will allow limited sales of U.S. crude to Mexico for the first time. 

The Commerce Department indicated it would approve applications to export lighter, high-quality shale oil in exchange for imported Mexican heavy crude. Such swaps are one of several possible exemptions allowed in the four-decade-old law that otherwise bans most overseas shipments.

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But American refiners warned the swaps may lead to higher U.S. gasoline prices because they will have to pay more for U.S. crude and pass on the higher costs to consumers.

Jose Manuel Carrera, CEO of Pemex's commercial arm PMI Comercio Internacional, said the oil swap could bring up to 100,000 barrels per day of light U.S. crude to Mexico's domestic refineries, boosting gasoline output, in exchange for Mexican heavy crude.

However, the benefit in terms of U.S. jobs and the continuation of America's shale revolution would offset higher gasoline prices, Richardson said.

"The price may go up a little bit, but at the same time, prices for gasoline, home heating oil, they've gone down a bit," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "If we continue with these oil export wavers, it's going to be good for the country."

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Outright approval for sale of U.S. crude could allow the producers to export more energy products to Europe, thereby offsetting the Continent's dependence on Russian natural gas, Richardson said.

The United States banned crude exports in 1975 in a bid to promote domestic oil production and build strategic reserves amid an oil crisis precipitated by a petroleum embargo enforced by Arab nations.

"It makes no sense. It's a relic of the '70s and the '80s," Richardson said.

Should the Obama administration allow greater export of oil, U.S. crude would likely get a lift while the international benchmark Brent crude would fall, said Kevin Book, head of energy research at ClearView Energy Partners.

The spread between the two contracts is currently about $7.

"You can ship oil pretty much anywhere in the world for six bucks a barrel, so what you're saying is captivity is really hurting the U.S. producer right now," Book told "Squawk Box."

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However, the announcement on Friday will not change the world because Mexican refineries can only take in another 150,000 to 200,000 barrels per day of light crude from the United States, Book said.

"This isn't by itself enough to take the pressure off," he said, adding that "it doesn't look like the Obama administration is going all the way yet either."

—Reuters contributed to this story.

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