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Property and Prosperity: Examining Contemporary Private Property Ownership in Light of Increased Oil and Gas Development in the United States

141 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2013 Last revised: 28 May 2014

Sara K. Phillips

Centre for International Sustainable Development law; McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 27, 2013


The concept of private property has played an important role within American history and culture. For many of the country’s founding statesmen, private property was heralded as the ultimate path to freedom, financial independence, and prosperity. The role of the private landowner has evolved dramatically over the last two centuries or so, and private property has now become an important component of US states’ increased oil and gas development efforts. As demand for the resources continues to rise, the US has experienced an unprecedented boom in oil and gas development, on both public and private lands. In the wake of increased development activity, the demand for greater land conservation measures has also escalated. Private property plays an integral role in US environmental conservation efforts and a growing number of landowners now seek enduring land conservation and protection.

This thesis considers the role of private property in light of the arguably equally important state interests of oil and gas resource development and environmental conservation. Utilizing professors Gregory Alexander and Eduardo Peñalver’s human flourishing model of the social obligation norm, I argue that private property ownership consists of two primary overarching social obligations: resource development and land conservation. Looking to the state of Colorado as a case study, I examine the various traits inherent in private land ownership within the context of resource development, demonstrating that Colorado has, to its detriment, over-emphasized the obligation of resource development while neglecting other equally important environmental considerations. Throughout the thesis, I reveal how Colorado’s substandard regulatory practices have disempowered the state’s private landowners, disincentivized land conservation efforts, and effectively undermined the human flourishing model of private property ownership. I therefore argue for a repositioning of the state’s interests, to provide greater protection to Colorado’s private landowners while also restoring balance and harmony to the social objectives of environmental preservation, and conservation and development of oil and gas resources.

Keywords: private property, resource development, environmental conservation, social responsibility, human flourishing, environmental regulation, environmental law, oil and gas, resource development, resource conservation, oil and gas regulation, Colorado, COGCC, United States, extraction

Suggested Citation

Phillips, Sara K., Property and Prosperity: Examining Contemporary Private Property Ownership in Light of Increased Oil and Gas Development in the United States (August 27, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Sara K. Phillips (Contact Author)

Centre for International Sustainable Development law ( email )


McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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