Today, one of the consequences of the boom in oil and gas production is that there is a growing surplus of oil, natural gas, and even coal (some of which has been displaced by natural gas as an electricity source) that producers want to export. While there is not (and likely never will be) an absolute surplus in crude oil, the different types of crude match up with different refinery capabilities, and it can make more economic sense to export light, sweet crude from the Bakken and import heavy crude from Venezuela.
A Maze of Export Regulations
Over time, a litany of government regulations has been put in place to regulate or restrict the export of fossil fuels. However, they each reflect the time in which the legislation was passed. The result is a checkerboard of regulations, leading to some strange outcomes. For instance, under the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the export of crude oil is illegal without a permit from the Department of Commerce, unless that crude was produced on Alaska’s North Slope and travels through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. On the other hand, the export of refined petroleum products (like diesel fuel, kerosene, or refined gasoline) is virtually unregulated.
Regulations for natural gas are similarly convoluted. Under the 1938 Natural Gas Act, the export or import of natural gas is illegal unless the Secretary of Energy finds that it is in “the public interest” – a finding that is guaranteed in statute if the gas is exported to a free-trade agreement partner. On the other hand, the exports of natural gas liquids (like propane, ethane, or others) are unregulated, even though they often come directly from the same wells as natural gas (methane).
Finally, the export of coal is unregulated, even though coal is generally the most polluting source of fossil fuels.
To further complicate the issue, the Jones Act of 1920 requires that all trade between U.S. ports be carried solely on American ships, crewed and owned by U.S. citizens. This means that, because of this artificial scarcity, it can be twice as costly to send oil from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast as it would be to send it further around to Maritime Canada. This makes it more cost effective for a company to export fuel from Gulf Coast ports abroad and import refined fuel from Europe to the East Coast than it is to simply ship refined fuel from the Gulf of Mexico to the East Coast. The same would be true of crude oil if exports were allowed.
All this said, these laws where put into effect to make the Super-Wealthy even more wealthy at the time. Now, these same laws are stopping the Ultra-Capitalized Corporations from doing what they do best, Destroy the planet and create geopolitical wars while dancing in the shadows of greed.