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The Self-Enforcing Provisions of Oil and Gas Unit Operating Agreements: Theory and Evidence

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  • Gary D. Libecap
  • James L. Smith

Abstract

This paper extends the existing theory and empirical investigation of unitization contracts. It highlights the importance of incentive-compatibility and self-enforcement and the bargaining problems faced in achieving viable, long-term contracts. We argue that only if the parties to a unitization contract have unit production shares that are the same as their cost shares will the contract be incentive compatible. Using a data base of sixty unit operating agreements, we measure the industry's actual behavior against the principles of production from a common pool. Our survey of units that have only one production phase and that are relatively homogeneous reveals that such equal sharing rules are always found and they appear to encourage the parties to behave optimally. In more complex units with multiple production phases and/or separate concentrations of oil and gas (gas caps) we find deviations from the theoretical ideal. In the case of multi-phase units, we find equal cost and production shares within phases, but not across phases. A pre-set trigger for shifting from one production phase to the next helps to maintain optimal behavior. For gas cap units, however, we generally do not find the equal sharing rule. Conflicts and rent dissipation follow as illustrated by the case of the Prudhoe Bay Unit. The paper describes the desirable contract rules for avoiding moral hazard. It also shows how the effects of those rules can be replicated in difficult situations.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary D. Libecap & James L. Smith, 1999. "The Self-Enforcing Provisions of Oil and Gas Unit Operating Agreements: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7142, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7142
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    1. Douglas W. Allen & Dean Lueck, 1993. "Transaction Costs and the Design of Cropshare Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 24(1), pages 78-100, Spring.
    2. Smith, James L, 1987. "The Common Pool, Bargaining, and the Rule of Capture," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 25(4), pages 631-644, October.
    3. Wiggins, Steven N & Libecap, Gary D, 1985. "Oil Field Unitization: Contractual Failure in the Presence of Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(3), pages 368-385, June.
    4. Klein, Benjamin, 1996. "Why Hold-Ups Occur: The Self-Enforcing Range of Contractual Relationships," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(3), pages 444-463, July.
    5. Libecap, Gary D & Wiggins, Steven N, 1984. "Contractual Responses to the Common Pool: Prorationing of Crude Oil Production," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(1), pages 87-98, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Boyce, John R. & Nøstbakken, Linda, 2011. "Exploration and development of U.S. oil and gas fields, 1955-2002," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 35(6), pages 891-908, June.
    2. Zeynep K. Hansen & Gary D. Libecap, 2004. "Small Farms, Externalities, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(3), pages 665-694, June.
    3. Jongwook Kim & Joseph T. Mahoney, 2005. "Property rights theory, transaction costs theory, and agency theory: an organizational economics approach to strategic management," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(4), pages 223-242.
    4. Jongwook Kim & Joseph T. Mahoney, 2002. "Resource-based and property rights perspectives on value creation: the case of oil field unitization," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 23(4-5), pages 225-245.
    5. Lin, C.-Y. Cynthia & Leighty, Wayne, 2007. "Government Leasing Policy and the Multi-Stage Investment Timing Game in Offshore Petroleum Production," Institute of Transportation Studies, Working Paper Series qt1rj6v4df, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis.
    6. Costello, Christopher & Quérou, Nicolas & Tomini, Agnes, 2015. "Partial enclosure of the commons," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 69-78.
    7. Lin, C.Y. Cynthia, 2009. "Do Firms Interact Strategically?," Working Papers 225896, University of California, Davis, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
    8. Gary D. Libecap, 2011. "Institutional Path Dependence in Climate Adaptation: Coman's "Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation"," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(1), pages 64-80, February.
    9. Mohan Vijay & Goorha Prateek, 2008. "Competition and Unitization in Oil Extraction: A Tale of Two Tragedies," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 4(1), pages 519-561, December.
    10. Gary D. Libecap, 2018. "Douglass C. North: Transaction Costs, Property Rights, and Economic Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 24585, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Leighty, Wayne W. & Lin, C.Y. Cynthia, 2008. "Tax policy can change the production path: an empirical model of optimal oil extraction in Alaska," Working Papers 225894, University of California, Davis, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
    12. Andrew B. Ayres & Eric C. Edwards & Gary D. Libecap, 2017. "How Transaction Costs Obstruct Collective Action: Evidence from California’s Groundwater," NBER Working Papers 23382, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Vissing, Ashley, 2015. "Private Contracts as Regulation: A Study of Private Lease Negotiations Using the Texas Natural Gas Industry," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association, vol. 0(Number 2), pages 1-18, August.
    14. Gary D. Libecap, 2010. "Institutional Path Dependence in Climate Adaptation: Coman's "Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation"," NBER Working Papers 16324, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Gary D. Libecap, 2013. "Addressing Global Environmental Externalities: Transaction Costs Considerations," NBER Working Papers 19501, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Leighty, Wayne & Lin, C.-Y. Cynthia, 2012. "Tax policy can change the production path: A model of optimal oil extraction in Alaska," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 759-774.
    17. Gary D. Libecap, 2010. "Institutional Path Dependence in Climate Adaptation: Coman’s “Some Unsettled Problems of Irrigation”," ICER Working Papers 33-2010, ICER - International Centre for Economic Research.
    18. Maze, Armelle, 2006. "Multilateral reputation mechanisms and contract law in agriculture : complement or substitutes," 2006 Annual meeting, July 23-26, Long Beach, CA 21285, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    19. Kaffine Daniel T & Costello Christopher, 2011. "Unitization of Spatially Connected Renewable Resources," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(1), pages 1-31, March.
    20. Altman, Ira J. & Johnson, Thomas G., 2004. "A Transaction Cost Econoimcs View Of Agriculture Exchanges For Biopower: Theoretical And Methodological Concerns," 2004 Annual Meeting, February 14-18, 2004, Tulsa, Oklahoma 34686, Southern Agricultural Economics Association.
    21. Lin, C.-Y. Cynthia, 2009. "Estimating strategic interactions in petroleum exploration," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 586-594, July.
    22. Gary Libecap, 2007. "Regulation and Deregulation: Property Rights Allocation Issues in De Regulation of Common Pool Resources," ICER Working Papers 28-2007, ICER - International Centre for Economic Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K00 - Law and Economics - - General - - - General (including Data Sources and Description)
    • L00 - Industrial Organization - - General - - - General

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