UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The economics of industry petroleum exploration Eglington, Peter Cheston


This thesis examines various features of the market for petroleum reserves, in theory and empirically for the time period 1947-1970 in Alberta, Canada. The main thrust of analysis is directed towards the industry supply process in the reserves market which results from the activities of exploration companies. In particular the thesis focusses attention on the activity of New Field Wildcatting. A totally new data bank regarding oil and gas exploration in Alberta is established, containing many items of information which have net previously been available and whose lack was considered a major stumbling block in analysing the petroleum exploration process. For example, the data files show the direction of search of exploratory wells, towards either oil or gas, the class of well which discovered each petroleum pool, the company which was the principal operator of the discovery well, the cost of wells, etc. Thus, it was possible to analyse the discovery sequence from well class, etc. to the discovered pool and its detailed reserves characteristics. With this data bank an original and unique approach amongst studies of oil and gas supply and exploration was possible. The study isolates the geological and economic factors which contribute to the incentives and costs of participants in the market for reserves. It should be noted that the data bank, on computer tape and described in a 130 page manual, can be obtained upon request from the author. The hitherto unavailable detail of this data invites further analysis. On the demand side of the reserves market, data was generated which allowed a detailed estimation of the price incentive to explore for reserves. This included consideration of production delays, expected well productivities, royalties, operating costs, joint products, income taxes, etc. It is established that New Field Wildcat wells may be viewed as the primary discovery activity of the petroleum reserves market. A main objective of the thesis is to define the components of the economic market for reserves so that empirical tests may be conducted to demonstrate the economic linkages between the incentives to explore for oil and gas and the rates of wildcat drilling and subsequent reserves discovered. This objective is met by providing an extensive descriptive and statistical backdrop of the oil and natural gas industry in Alberta, developing theoretical economic models of petroleum exploration and production, and then fitting econometric equations to estimate the elasticity and shifting of the industry' s short run petroleum reserves supply function. It is shown that the short run elasticity between the reserves price incentive to explore and New Field Wildcatting for oil averaged between 0.3 and 0.4 during the period in Alberta. The comparable elasticity for natural gas was around 0.1. We stress, however, that these elasticities may be rather unimportant out of their context of a shifting supply function. They do not remain constant as a region is depleted and the rate at which the supply function shifts as a region is explored will be more significant in determining the longer run petroleum supply than the short run elasticity. Such shifting of the supply function is also estimated. Secondary objectives are to examine the exploration characteristics of large companies compared to the others. Statistical analysis shows that the "Big Eight" companies have realized higher success ratios in New Field Wildcatting, have discovered much larger oil and gas pools and have done considerably more geophysics on their land holdings than other companies. Many other features of the petroleum discovery process, such as the statistical nature of the populations of pools discovered in sequential time periods, are also examined.

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