Policy Briefing: Carbon Impacts of Reinstating the U.S. Crude Export Ban

by Tim Donaghy

January 28, 2020

A policy briefing from Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International shows that reinstating the U.S. crude oil export ban could reduce global emissions by the equivalent of closing 19 to 42 coal plants.

© Christian Åslund / Greenpeac

A new policy briefing from Greenpeace USA and Oil Change International calculates the climate benefits of reinstating the crude oil export ban.

Download the full policy briefing here.
Download the research methods appendix here.


A growing body of research has shown that continued investment in fossil fuel extraction will put global climate goals out of reach. The contradiction between a climate-safe emissions trajectory and increasing fossil fuel production is most stark in the United States, which the shale boom has made the world’s leading oil and gas producer. One key factor in triggering this boom was the 2015 removal of the decades-old ban on crude oil exports. As Jim Teague, the chief executive of Enterprise Products, the U.S.’s largest crude exporter, told The Dallas Morning News in November 2019, “Without the crude oil export ban repeal, the United States would not be producing half of the oil it is today because it could not be exported.”

The surge of oil and gas production in recent years has placed the planet at great risk, and policymakers must act swiftly to rein in expansion and bring sanity to U.S. energy policy.

The next president and Congress must reinstate the crude oil export ban as one part of a suite of ambitious Green New Deal policies to phase out fossil fuel production, ensure justice and equity for workers and communities, and transform the U.S. economy. Restoring the ban would not be a new step for the federal government — to the contrary, export restrictions were the norm for decades — but rather an admission that removing the ban in 2015 was an error that has deepened the climate crisis and made the needed transformation of the U.S. energy system significantly more difficult.

In this briefing, we find that reinstating the U.S. crude oil export ban could lead to reductions in global carbon emissions by as much as 73 to 165 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent each year. Reinstating the ban would also send a strong signal to energy investors that the fossil fuel era is drawing to a close, act as a failsafe against future export-directed investments and carbon leakage, and provide a useful policy lever over emissions beyond U.S. borders.

This range of carbon emissions reductions is the equivalent of closing between 19 and 42 coal plants, and delivers a carbon benefit comparable to implementing President Barack Obama’s proposed light-duty vehicle efficiency standards. This range of carbon reductions arises from considering a range of plausible scenarios, although the uncertainty in some key parameters is large and the carbon benefit could be larger or smaller.

Crucially, ambitious policies to constrain and phase out fossil fuel production must be carried out in tandem with strong just transition policies to ensure that the lives and livelihoods of industry workers and communities are protected and improved throughout the transition.

The next president has the legal authority to reinstate crude oil export restrictions by declaring a national climate emergency, but ultimately, Congress must act to incorporate export restrictions as an essential part of U.S. energy policy for the twenty-first century. The speed and scale of the climate crisis demands bold action from policymakers, who must respond with all available policy tools.

Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

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