Tight Oil Production Technology Effects on the U.S. Petroleum Industry's Vertical Integration
Jackson, William Dalton
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The introduction of tight-oil technologies into the U.S. petroleum industry’s supply chain has triggered a revolution with wide commercial, economic, and geopolitical impacts. While these upstream technologies have increased proven reserves, reduced the unsuccessful well incident rate, and increased individual well productivity, they have also increased per well costs. Concurrently, the U.S. petroleum industry expanded and modernized its downstream refining sector with a different suite of technologies, including “digital oilfield” technologies and advanced refinery processes. Moreover, while these innovations were being introduced, the U.S. petroleum industry's long-standing vertically integrated structure has undergone a steady disintegration, in which the dominance of large integrated companies has been weakened. This study explores whether – and to what extent -- these two industrial developments may be related, and, if so, what is the nature of this relationship? The introduction of tight-oil technology in U.S. crude oil production provides an opportunity to study a new technology’s measurable deployment into the upstream portion of a supply chain and its potential influence on an industry’s industrial organization. Tight-oil deployments were largely unanticipated, and any biases introduced by the reciprocal relationships between organizational changes and technological progress are likely minimized. Due to the nature of these innovations, the production from wells utilizing the tight-oil technologies can be segregated from that of other wells using more conventional technologies. Because this study measures directly the adoption and implementation of innovative technologies on an industry’s discrete operations, it can assess more accurately the impact of technological innovation on an industry’s evolving organizational structure. As a result, this study seeks to provide insight into the essential nature of a technological innovation and how its insertion into key locations in an industry’s supply chain can influence directly and substantially the organizational structure of the linked industries that compose it.