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Technology and the Exploratory Success Rate in the U.S. Offshore

Over the last 20 years, the offshore exploratory success rate has more than doubled for a group of large producers which includes Exxon, Shell, Mobil, and Texaco, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). It is tempting to conclude that this increase can be attributed to the many advances in seismic and drilling technologies that have occurred over the same period. However, such a conclusion may be premature given that much of the increase in the success rate occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, well before the major advancements in seismic technology. The conclusion may also be premature in that it ignores the relationship between price and the success rate. Increases in the price may positively (negatively) affect the success rate. Given this, and the decline in price over the past decade, one would expect the success rate to have declined (increased) in the absence of technological change. This paper develops an econometric model that attempts to disentangle and quantify the effects of the major factors hypothesized to affect the offshore exploratory success rate. The analysis relies on company level data from the EIA's Financial Reporting System over the period 1978 through 1995.

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Energy Specializations: Petroleum – Exploration and Production; Natural Gas – Exploration and Production

JEL Codes: Q40: Energy: General, Q41: Energy: Demand and Supply; Prices, Q35: Hydrocarbon Resources, L71: Mining, Extraction, and Refining: Hydrocarbon Fuels, Q32: Exhaustible Resources and Economic Development

Keywords: Oil exploration, US, oil production, oil companies, drilling offshore

DOI: 10.5547/ISSN0195-6574-EJ-Vol21-No1-5

Published in Volume21, Number 1 of the bi-monthly journal of the IAEE's Energy Economics Education Foundation.


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