The 1975 EPCA, as described in more detail previously, gave the executive large discretionary power to shape American energy exports. During most of the Act’s existence, US crude oil exports have been prohibited on energy security grounds, with minor exceptions. However, the EPCA does not prohibit the export of petroleum products. Even in the depths of the 1970s energy crisis, the US exported small quantities of finished gasoline. Exports continued to increase throughout the 1980s and 1990s to reach a peak of 161 million barrels in 2014. 2015 will likely supersede this number.
Concurrently, imports of gasoline have continued to decline since reaching a peak of 219 million barrels in 2005, down to 17 million in 2014. Despite the calls for increased energy security throughout the last decade, the US became a net exporter of gasoline in 2010.
Several factors contribute the rise of gasoline exports. In recent years, in which WTI has traded at a discount to Brent, refining of crude domestically and exporting it to worldwide markets becomes lucrative. Overall demand for gasoline in the US has stagnated throughout the 2000s and 2010s as vehicles became more efficient and drivers more conscious of their driving patterns amid high gasoline prices.
More importantly, the level of gasoline exports serves to highlight the impact of the EPCA and the rent-seeking it has enabled in the refining sector. With the recent repeal of provisions prohibiting crude oil exports, the pricing dynamic of the refinery sector will change and gasoline exports may decline. In any case, the energy security that the EPCA sought to provide did not materialize throughout the 2000s. Refiners were able to take advantage of arbitrage conditions and export finished products to countries where they would receive the highest price, hence the high levels of gasoline exports throughout the decade.
All graphs derived from Energy Information Administration data.