Oil and Gas Tax Subsidies: Current Status and Analysis

Publication Date: February 2007

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Energy



Congressional policymakers are discussing the possibility of raising taxes on the oil and gas industry by (1) revoking the industry tax incentives enacted under the Energy Policy Act of 2005; (2) cutting or eliminating the traditional tax subsidies for oil and gas, which were expanded somewhat under the 2005 act; and (3) eliminating or reducing tax loopholes -- provisions (but not strictly tax subsidies) that are generally available to other domestic industries but that also benefit the oil and gas industry.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT05, P.L. 109-58) included several oil and gas tax incentives, providing about $2.6 billion of tax cuts for the oil and gas industry. In addition, EPACT05 provided for $2.9 billion of tax increases on the oil and gas industry, for a net tax increase on the industry of nearly $300 million over 11 years. Energy tax increases comprise the oil spill liability tax and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank financing rate, both of which are imposed on oil refineries. If these taxes are subtracted from the tax subsidies, the oil and gas refinery and distribution sector received a net tax increase of $1,356 million ($2,857 million minus $1,501 million).

EPACT05 was approved and signed into law at a time of very high petroleum and natural gas prices and record oil industry profits. The House approved the conference report on July 28, 2005, and the Senate on July 29, 2005, clearing it for the President's signature on August 8 (P.L. 109-58). However, the tax sections originated in the106th Congress, with its effort in 1999 to help the ailing domestic oil and gas producing industry, particularly small producers, deal with depressed oil prices. Subsequent price spikes prompted concern about insufficient domestic energy production capacity and supply. All the early bills appeared to be weighted more toward stimulating the supply of conventional fuels, including capital investment incentives to stimulate production and transportation of oil and gas.

In addition to the tax subsidies enacted under EPACT05, the U.S. oil and gas industry qualifies for several other targeted tax subsidies (FY2006 revenue loss estimates appear in parenthesis): (1) percentage depletion allowance ($1 billion); (2) expensing of intangible drilling costs for successful wells and non-geological and geophysical costs for dry holes, including the exemption from the passive loss limitation rules that apply to all other industries ($1.1 billion); (3) a tax credit for small refiners of low-sulfur diesel fuel that complies with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sulfur regulations ($ 50 million); (4) the enhanced oil recovery tax credit ($0); and (5) marginal oil and gas production tax credits ($0).

Finally, congressional policymakers have discussed the possibility of eliminating or reducing some of the tax advantages enjoyed by the domestic oil and gas industry that are also available to other industries: (1) accelerated depreciation; (2) the domestic production (or manufacturing) deduction under Internal Revenue Code ? 199; (3) last-in, first-out inventory accounting method; and (4) the foreign tax credit.