Oil: A big investment with big tax breaks

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Oil: A big investment with big tax breaks

When it comes to tax-advantaged investments for affluent or knowledgeable investors, one commodity remains unrivaled: oil. Domestic energy production, with the support of the US government, has resulted in a slew of tax breaks for both investors and small producers, and oil is no exception.

Key Takeaways

  • Several significant tax breaks are offered to oil and gas firms and investors that are not present elsewhere in the tax law.
  • Tangible costs, which are the real direct costs of drilling equipment, are fully deductible but must be depreciated over a seven-year period.
  • Intangible drilling expenses account for 65-80% of overall drilling costs and are 100% deductible in the year spent.
  • Lease operation costs, as well as all administrative, legal, and accounting expenditures, may be deducted during the lease’s term.

How Oil Tax Benefits Work

Several significant tax breaks are provided to oil and gas investors that are not found anywhere else in the tax law. We’ll go through the advantages of tax-advantaged oil investments and how you may utilize them to boost your portfolio. The following are the primary tax advantages of investing in oil:

Intangible Drilling Costs

Everything but the actual drilling equipment is included in intangible drilling expenses. Intangibles include labor, chemicals, mud, grease, and other other goods required for drilling. These expenditures typically account for 60-80% of the overall cost of digging a well and are fully deductible in the year they are spent. For example, if drilling a well costs $300,000 and 75% of that cost is judged to be intangible, the investor would obtain a current deduction of $225,000. Furthermore, it makes little difference whether the well produces or even hits oil. The deductions will be permitted as long as it begins operations by March 31 of the following year.

Tangible Drilling Costs

Tangible costs are the direct costs of the drilling equipment. These costs are likewise fully deductible, but must be depreciated over a seven-year period. As a result, in the above example, the remaining $75,000 might be written off over a seven-year period.

Active vs. Passive Income

A working interest (as opposed to a royalty interest) in an oil and gas well is not considered a passive activity under the tax law. This implies that any net losses experienced in connection with well-head production are active income that may be adjusted against other types of income such as wages, interest, and capital gains.

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Small Producer Tax Exemptions

This is perhaps the most appealing tax relief for small manufacturers and investors. This tax break, sometimes known as the “depletion allowance,” exempts from taxes 15% of all gross revenue from oil and gas wells. This exceptional benefit is only available to small businesses and investors. Ineligible are companies who produce or process more than 50,000 barrels of oil per day. Entities with more than 1,000 barrels of oil per day or 6 million cubic feet of gas per day are also prohibited.

Lease Costs

These include lease and mineral rights purchases, lease operation fees, and other administrative, legal, and accounting charges. These expenditures must be capitalized and deducted via the depletion allowance during the lease’s term.

Alternative Minimum Tax

All extra intangible drilling expenses have been expressly exempted from the alternative minimum tax (AMT) return as a “preference item.” The AMT was created to guarantee that taxpayers paid their “fair share” of taxes by recalculating income tax owing and putting back particular preferred tax deductions or goods.

Oil Tax Breaks and Energy Infrastructure Development

The list of tax advantages demonstrates how concerned the United States government is about creating domestic energy infrastructure. Perhaps most significant is the absence of any income or net worth restrictions other than those indicated above (i.e., the small producer limit).As a result, even the richest individuals may invest directly in oil and gas and get all of the advantages outlined above, as long as their ownership is limited to 1,000 barrels of oil per day. There is hardly no other investment category in America that can compete with the plethora of tax incentives provided to the oil and gas business.

Investment Options in Oil and Gas

Oil and gas investors might choose from a variety of options. Mutual funds, partnerships, royalty interests, and working interests are the four primary groups. Each has a distinct risk threshold and various taxes requirements.

Mutual Funds

Because mutual funds invest in a diverse range of assets, they provide the least level of risk to the investor. However, the mutual fund investment does not give any of the above-mentioned tax advantages. Investors will be taxed on all dividends and capital gains, exactly as with other funds.

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For oil and gas ventures, many types of partnerships might be employed. The most popular are limited partnerships, which restrict the responsibility of the whole generating enterprise to the amount invested by the partner. These are offered as securities and are subject to registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).The above-mentioned tax breaks are accessible on a pass-through basis. Each year, the partner will get a Form K-1 showing his or her portion of the income and costs.


Royalties are payments made to people who own the land on which oil and gas wells are developed. The royalties are paid “on top” of the gross revenue earned by the wells. Landowners generally earn 12% to 20% of gross production—of course, owning property with oil and gas deposits may be quite beneficial.

Furthermore, the landowners take no obligation for the leases or wells. Landowners, however, are not eligible for any of the tax advantages enjoyed by people who possess working or partnership interests. All royalties must be reported on Schedule E of Form 1040.

Working Interests

Working interests are by far the riskiest and most complex method to invest in oil and gas. Working interests provide investors with a share of ownership that allows them to participate in drilling operations. Working interests are often referred to as operational interests.

This form’s income must be reported on Schedule C of the 1040. Although it is considered self-employment income and is subject to self-employment tax, the majority of investors who engage in this capacity already have earnings that exceed the Social Security taxable wage basis.

Because working interests are not considered securities, they do not need a license to sell. In this sort of organization, each member has unlimited responsibility, akin to a general partnership. A gentleman’s agreement is often used to buy and sell working interests.

Net Revenue Interest (NRI) and Oil Taxation

Production is divided into gross and net revenue for every particular project, regardless of how the money is eventually dispersed to the investors. Gross revenue is just the quantity of barrels of oil or cubic feet of gas produced each day, but net revenue deducts both royalties paid to landowners and the severance tax on minerals levied by most states. A royalty or working interest in a project is often valued as a multiple of the amount of barrels of oil or cubic feet of gas produced each day.

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For example, if a project produces 10 barrels of oil per day and the prevailing market pricing is $35,000 per barrel (this amount changes continually owing to a variety of reasons), the project’s wholesale cost will be $350,000.

Assume the price of oil is $60 per barrel, severance taxes are 7.5%, and the net revenue interest—the proportion of working interest earned after royalties have been paid—is 80%. The wells are now producing 10 barrels of oil per day, which amounts to $600 in gross output each day. Multiply this by 30 days—the amount often used to calculate monthly production—and the project generates $18,000 in gross income every month. To calculate net revenue, we remove 20% of $18,000, which is $14,400.

The severance tax is then paid, which is 7.5% of the $14,400. (Note: Landowners must pay this tax on their royalty income as well).This raises the net revenue to around $13,320 per month or approximately $159,840 per year. However, all running expenditures, as well as any new drilling costs, must be paid from this revenue as well. As a consequence, assuming no additional wells are dug, the project owner may only earn $125,000 per year from the project. Of course, drilling new wells will generate a significant tax benefit as well as more production for the enterprise.

The Bottom Line

Oil and gas investments have never looked better in terms of taxation. Of course, they are not for everyone, since drilling for oil and gas may be dangerous. As a result, the SEC requires qualified investors for many oil and gas partnerships, which means they fulfill specified income and net worth standards. However, for individuals who qualify, involvement in an independent oil and gas operation may give significant tax benefits.

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