The Economic Evolution of Petroleum Property Rights in the United States

35 Pages Posted: 17 May 2001

See all articles by James L. Smith

James L. Smith

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Gary D. Libecap

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management; University of Arizona - Karl Eller Center; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

Date Written: March 7, 2001

Abstract

We examine Harold Demsetz's (1967) prediction that property rights would emerge and be refined once the benefits of doing so exceeded the costs. We follow the gradual development of property rights to subsurface oil and gas deposits in the United States through private and political negotiations to test this prediction. The pattern has been influenced by technological change, shifts in relative prices, information asymmetries, and political factors. All in all, the pattern of property rights development for oil and gas described follows the broad outlines sketched Demsetz. But the details of the bargaining process, the importance of information asymmetries and price volatility, and the key role of politics have resulted in property rights structures that would not have been predicted in a strict neo-classical sense. Our analysis provides insights regarding the industry practice of crafting unitization agreements that distinguish between multiple participating areas and/or time-phases of extraction. Completing these agreements often is plagued by high transactions costs, and the state has intervened to force unitization. But we argue that under certain circumstances this action may not improve welfare.

Keywords: Property Rights, rule of capture, prorationing, unitization

JEL Classification: D23, N51, N52, Q38, Q49

Suggested Citation

Smith, James L. and Libecap, Gary D., The Economic Evolution of Petroleum Property Rights in the United States (March 7, 2001). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=266710 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.266710

James L. Smith

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Gary D. Libecap (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) - Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management ( email )

4670 Physical Sciences North
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-5131
United States
805-893-8611 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.esm.ucsb.edu/people/usernew.asp?user=glibecap

University of Arizona - Karl Eller Center ( email )

McClelland Hall
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States
520-621-4821 (Phone)
520-626-5269 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.bpa.arizona.edu/~libecap

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

PERC - Property and Environment Research Center

2048 Analysis Drive
Suite A
Bozeman, MT 59718
United States

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