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An attempt to value Canadian oil and natural gas reserves : an extension of the hotelling valuation principle



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The importance of the Hotelling Valuation Principle (HVP) in economic study lies in its ability to examine and drive the decision of how much of a non-renewable natural resource to produce now versus how much to conserve for future generations - the root of natural resource policy, conservation, regulation, and taxation. Hotelling (1931) assumes that net price (selling price less cost per unit of production) will grow at the discount rate, which in a deterministic setting implies that reserve value is equal to current net price. However, the application of this ideal theory to the oil and gas industry may be difficult.The oil and gas industry is influenced by government regulation, potential monopolistic forces, and well production characteristics - each of which violate the assumptions of Hotelling’s (1931) basic theory. How these violations affect the HVP is an open question. Most have the effect of limiting current supply, and thus driving prices higher than they would be in a perfectly competitive market. On the other hand, at least in the Canadian context, government regulation tends to increase costs, whereas technological advancement tends to reduce costs. The net result of these effects on future net prices and their discounted value, and therefore the effect on the HVP, is not clear a priori.Another problem relating Hotelling’s (1931) basic theory to the oil and gas industry lies in the stochastic nature of a firm’s future net prices and extraction quantities, the product of which gives the firm’s future cash flows. Correlation between quantity and net price may result from expanding production when prices are high and reducing production when prices are low. Of course such correlation will affect the expected cash flows, and therefore firm value. Or, in other words, the ability to adjust production quantity provides “real options” for oil and gas firms which may add value.Previous tests of the HVP on oil and gas reserves have utilized data that may contain confounding information that results in unreliable conclusions. The two major deficiencies include using (1) acquisition values, which utilize basin-average rather than firm specific net price data, and (2) conventional oil and gas company market valuations, which incorporate additional “management exploration expertise” value beyond the reserve’s value.This study contributes to the literature by providing a more definitive test of the HVP through the use of Canadian oil and gas royalty trusts. These “pure play” publicly traded entities are focused on production rather than exploration and essentially remediate the deficiencies found in previous literature. Additionally, I include an ancillary variable to proxy real option value and control variables for firm characteristics such as oil weighting (proportion of oil relative to natural gas reserves), reserve quality (proportion of proven producing reserves relative to proven non-producing reserves), and firm size (based on enterprise value). This gives the reader a better understanding of value drivers in the Canadian oil and gas royalty trust sector and how they relate to the HVP.My study generally fails to find support for the HVP. In particular, the results indicate that the HVP overestimates reserve value. This suggests that market participants expect net prices to grow at a rate significantly lower than the fair cost of capital, and production constraints limiting the extraction rate are binding. I do find that the real option proxy explains a significant amount of the difference between the value observed and the value predicted by the HVP. This differs markedly from what previous literature on the HVP applied to market data for the oil and gas industry documents. Each of these papers fails to reject the HVP. The fact that I generally find the value to be lower than that predicted by the HVP is not surprising given the previous literature using market data to test it. Since these studies use conventional oil and gas companies, which likely overvalue reserves because of an exploration premium, finding support for the HVP likely means that royalty trusts will likely correspond to a value lower than that predicted. The difference could account for the exploration premium. On the other hand, when I use the log-linear specification over the second, more volatile sub-sample, I also fail to reject Hotelling’s theoretical value, which is consistent with previous literature using market data.



oil and natural gas reserves, royalty trusts, Canada, valuation, Hotelling Valuation Principle



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Finance and Management Science


Finance and Management Science



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