Crude Oil Markets: Effects of the Repeal of the Crude Oil Export Ban

What GAO Found

GAO’s analysis of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data and interviews with industry stakeholders shows that the repeal of the U.S. crude oil export ban is associated with increased crude oil exports—from less than half a million barrels per day in 2015 to almost 3 million barrels per day in 2019. The repeal of the ban expanded the market for U.S. crude oil to overseas buyers and, along with other market factors, allowed U.S. crude oil producers to charge higher prices relative to comparable foreign crude oil. Higher prices and an expanded market for U.S. crude oil further incentivized domestic crude oil production, which had been growing since the shale oil boom began around 2009 (see figure). During the period after the repeal, total U.S. imports of crude oil remained largely unchanged.

Annual Production and Exports of U.S. Crude Oil, 2009-2019

GAO’s analysis found limited effects associated with the repeal of the ban on the production, export, and import of domestic refined petroleum products, such as gasoline. However, profit margins—which are determined in part by the costs a refiner pays for the crude oil and the earnings a refiner receives from the sale of refined products—likely decreased as the prices refiners paid for domestic crude oil increased relative to international prices. Because gasoline prices are largely determined on the global market, U.S. refiners could not pass on to consumers the additional costs associated with the increase in crude oil prices, resulting in decreased profit margins for U.S. refiners.

Finally, after the repeal of the crude oil export ban, the U.S. shipping industry experienced a decline as demand fell for U.S. tankers—known as Jones Act tankers—used to move domestic crude oil between U.S. ports. The increase in the relative price of domestic crude oils associated with the repeal of the export ban may have resulted in some U.S. refineries deciding to use more foreign crude oil. Foreign crude oil is typically transported by foreign tankers, reducing the demand for Jones Act tankers compared to what it would have been if the export ban had remained in place, according to six of the seven shipping industry stakeholders GAO interviewed.

Why GAO Did This Study

Between 1975 and the end of 2015, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act directed a ban on nearly all exports of U.S. crude oil. This ban was not considered a significant policy issue when U.S. oil production was declining and import volumes were increasing. However, U.S. crude oil production roughly doubled from 2009 to 2015, due in part to a boom in shale oil production made possible by advancements in drilling technologies. In December 2015, Congress effectively repealed the ban, allowing the free export of U.S. crude oil worldwide.

GAO was asked to provide information on the effects of repealing the crude oil export ban. This report describes the effects of the repeal of the crude oil export ban on the domestic crude oil production, petroleum refining, and related sectors of the U.S. shipping industry.

GAO analyzed data from EIA and other federal databases to determine the effects of repealing the export ban. GAO also interviewed a nongeneralizeable sample of economists, market analysts, and stakeholders from the oil and gas, refining, and shipping industries. GAO’s analysis focused on the repeal of the crude oil export ban and any effects of the repeal on U.S. crude oil and related industries through March 2020.

For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.

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    As of January 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had not established the Research Policy Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. The act requires OMB to establish the Board within 1 year of the December 13, 2016 enactment of the act. The Board is to provide information on the effects of regulations related to federal research requirements. OMB stated that it had not established the Board because of issues with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) and other federal agencies’ full participation in the Board’s potential activities to develop or implement a modified approach to indirect cost policies. According to OMB, “the Board would necessarily delve into issues related to compliance burden and indirect cost reimbursement to entities that receive federal funding for research.” Specifically, OMB pointed to a statutory provision appearing in annual appropriations bills that it believes prohibits HHS and other agencies from taking action on issues that could implicate certain indirect cost provisions. According to OMB, this provision could, if continued in future bills, “complicate or even possibly prohibit HHS from participating in major elements of the Board’s process.” OMB stated that, without representation of a major research agency such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of HHS, “OMB would not be equipped to meet the statutory goals of the Board.” However, HHS stated in October 2020 that the indirect cost provision would not prohibit NIH’s participation on the Board and that the department was not aware of any other appropriations law provision that would prohibit such participation. GAO has no basis to disagree with HHS’s position. The 21st Century Cures Act does not specifically direct the Board to examine issues related to indirect costs, and we identified other issues that may fall within the scope of the Board’s activities. For example, the act specifies five activities that the Board may conduct, including creating a forum for the discussion of research policy or regulatory gaps, and identifying regulatory process improvements and policy changes. The Board could consider examining these or other issues related to streamlining and harmonizing regulations and reducing administrative burden in federally funded research in accordance with the 21st Century Cures Act. By not having established the Board, OMB is missing opportunities for the Board to provide information on the effects of regulations related to requirements for federally funded research, and to make recommendations to harmonize and streamline such requirements. Further, OMB has limited time to establish the Board and the Board may have insufficient time to complete its work before the Board is set to terminate on September 30, 2021. The 21st Century Cures Act requires OMB to establish an advisory committee, to be known as the Research Policy Board, that is responsible for making recommendations on modifying and harmonizing regulation of federally funded research to reduce administrative burden. The Board is to consist of both federal and non-federal members and include not more than 10 members from federal agencies, including officials from OMB, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), HHS, the National Science Foundation, and other departments and agencies that support or regulate scientific research, as determined by the OMB Director. The 21st Century Cures Act includes a provision for GAO to conduct an independent evaluation of the Board’s activities. This report examines the steps OMB has taken to establish the Board as required by the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO reviewed written responses and other information from OMB, HHS, and OSTP; the 21st Century Cures Act and other laws related to the Board and its establishment; relevant reports on issues related to administrative burden; and related documents such as memoranda and agency guidance. GAO submitted a draft report containing the results of its evaluation to Congress on December 10, 2020. Congress should consider extending the period of authorization for the Research Policy Board, giving OMB additional time to establish the Research Policy Board and complete its statutory mission under the 21st Century Cures Act. GAO recommends that OMB establish the Research Policy Board as mandated by the 21st Century Cures Act and report to Congress on the Board’s activities. OMB did not agree or disagree with this recommendation. We maintain that the evidence in this report shows the need for our recommendation. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime News
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Florida Resident Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Falsify Clinical Trial Data
    In Crime News
    A Florida resident pleaded guilty to conspiring to falsify clinical trial data regarding an asthma medication, the Department of Justice announced today.
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    In Crime News
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  • Justice Department Calls on San Francisco Mayor to End “One Congregant” Rule for Places of Worship to Comply with the Constitution
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department today sent a letter to the San Francisco mayor explaining that the city’s policy of only allowing a single worshiper in places of worship regardless of their size, while allowing multiple patrons in other indoor settings including gyms, tattoo parlors, hair salons, massage studios, and daycares, is contrary to the Constitution and the nation’s best tradition of religious freedom.
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  • Defense Contractors: Information on Violations of Safety, Health, and Fair Labor Standards
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO's analysis of federal data found that about 1 percent of companies with Department of Defense (DOD) contracts were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor violations in fiscal years 2015 through 2019. However, these data do not indicate whether the violations occurred while performing work related to a defense contract. Companies with DOD Contracts Cited for Willful or Repeated Violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 or the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Fiscal Years 2015 through 2019 Because of limitations in available data, GAO could not determine the total incidence of willful or repeated violations of safety, health, or fair labor standards among all companies with a defense contract in this 5-year time frame. Specifically, about 43 percent of the Department of Labor's (Labor) safety and health violation data did not include key company identification numbers. These numbers are necessary to match federal contracting data to violation data. GAO recommended in February 2019 that Labor explore ways to address this issue. While Labor neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, it issued a memorandum in May 2019 directing its Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff to make every reasonable effort to collect this information during inspections and enter it into its database. About 1 percent of Labor's data on fair labor violations were missing these key company identification numbers. The nature of the willful or repeated violations for companies with DOD contracts during fiscal years 2015 through 2019 varied. According to GAO's analysis of Labor data, the most frequently found willful or repeated safety and health violations related to toxic substances and machinery. For that same time frame, the most frequently found willful or repeated fair labor violations related to failure to pay overtime. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to report on the number of DOD contractors that Labor found to have committed willful or repeated violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) or the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. This report examines the number of DOD contractors that were cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations under the OSH Act or FLSA, and the nature of those violations for fiscal years 2015 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal contracting data to identify companies that had defense contracts in fiscal years 2015 through 2019, and matched them to Labor data on companies cited for willful or repeated safety, health, or fair labor standards violations. In addition, GAO used the Labor data to identify information on the nature of the violations. GAO also reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, and agency documents. For more information, contact William T. Woods at (202) 512-4841 or woodsw@gao.gov, or Thomas Costa at (202) 512-7215 or costat@gao.gov.
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  • Judge Rya Zobel to Receive 2020 Devitt Award
    In U.S Courts
    Senior U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel, who grew up in Nazi Germany and later became the first woman to serve as director of the Federal Judicial Center, is the recipient of the 2020 Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award.
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    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that a federal court in Arizona permanently enjoined a Tucson area tax return preparer from preparing federal income tax returns for others.
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  • Statement from Attorney General William P. Barr on Introduction of Lawful Access Bill in the House of Representatives
    In Crime News
    Today, Attorney General William P. Barr issued the following statement on the introduction of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would give law enforcement access to encrypted data with court approval in order to protect user privacy. The legislation was introduced by Representative Ann Wagner.
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  • Secretary Pompeo’s Meeting with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Al Thani
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • New York Businessman Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion
    In Crime News
    A Woodsburgh, New York, businessman pleaded guilty today to tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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    In Space
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  • Fire Extinguisher Manufacturer Ordered to Pay $12 Million Penalty for Delay and Misrepresentations in Reporting Product Defects
    In Crime News
    A federal judge today ordered Walter Kidde Portable Equipment Inc. (Kidde) to pay a $12 million civil penalty in connection with allegations that the company failed to timely inform the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about problems with fire extinguishers manufactured by the company, the Department of Justice announced.
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  • Three Charged with Illegally Exporting Goods to Iran
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that three individuals have been charged in an indictment with conspiracy to export U.S. goods to Iran in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), as well as conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States, and conspiracy to engage in international money laundering.
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  • Release of American Hostages Held in Yemen
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  • Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Alabama for Unconstitutional Conditions in State’s Prisons for Men
    In Crime News
    Today, the Justice Department filed suit against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections. The complaint alleges that the conditions at Alabama’s prisons for men violate the Constitution because Alabama fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff. 
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