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Are Oil Exports Driving Up the Price of Gas?

Jordan Weissmann

The U.S. fossil fuel renaissance has sparked job booms in the oil fields of North Dakota and Texas, shrunk our national import tab, and led to a whole lot of talk about energy independence. But, as BloombergBusinessweek noted recently, one thing it hasn't done is lower the price of gasoline for American motorists, who are still paying $3.71 a gallon

Why not? There are a lot of ways to answer that question, the simplest being that despite all our drilling, oil is remains expensive. Worldwide, demand still beats supply. And since the cost of crude accounts for 72 percent of the cost of gasoline,* pump prices have stayed high. 

But that doesn't quite put the issue to bed. After all, Americans are driving and fueling up less, which should theoretically encourage the oil refiners that produce our gasoline and diesel to cut their prices. Businessweek points to a few reasons why that hasn't happened, but I want to focus on just one of them: exports. 

As the magazine's graph below shows, U.S. exports of refined oil products have surged over the past couple of years, at the same time as the price of gas rebounded hard from its recession-time drop.  

And finally, fuel exports offer certain perks. Namely, they're exports. Fuel and other petroleum products combine to make our largest export category by dollar value, bigger than cars, machinery, or jets. That, in turn, helps out our growth, and creates jobs in places like the Gulf region. 

So in short, yes exports are probably costing drivers a bit more. But it's not clear that ending them would be worth losing their benefits. 


*If you're really interested in the breakdown of what goes into gas prices, the California Energy Commission offers a handy year-to-year cart. 

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