crude oil

Photo via flickr/MarcDalio; photo illustration by Andrew Weber/KUT

It’s been a few weeks since Congress lifted a decades-long ban on crude oil exports, but something that often gets lost in talking about the end of the ban is that not all oil is created equally.

Oil from one place might have has more sulfur or more impurities than oil from another place; you might hear it called “heavy” or “light” crude. The differences have a big effect on what that oil can be used for, but explaining those differences can be, well, boring. But The Wall Street Journal's Russell Gold says he has a much more interesting corollary that might help illustrate those differences: alcohol.

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It might sound surprising that the U.S. does not allow the export of one of its most valuable and plentiful natural resources — but in the case of crude oil, it's true.

A lot of Texas politicians would like to see the ban overturned, and soon lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives may vote on just that.  But why is there a ban in the first place?


Anyone who spends time looking at how oil is drilled for and refined around the world comes to notice something strange. The names people give to different types of crude oil can sound surprisingly delicious.

In reporting on the role that benchmark oil prices play in moving the price of gasoline,  I was introduced to one person who had made a game out of it. Rice University student Aruni Ranaweera created the quiz "Beer, Coffee, Crude" to test her classmates' ability to distinguish between types of crude, types of beer, and blends of coffee.  It's harder than is sounds. Go ahead, crack open a can of Tia Juana Light and give it a shot.