ued using these cost data. Heterogeneity of reserves poses problems for the transactions approach because transaction values need not reflect the average value of the total reserves, as those parcels of reserves sold in any one period may have a quality above or below the average. All these problems of heterogeneity are particularly severe for metals, because there is a clear tendency for ore grades to fall over time. The issue is less clear for petroleum because new findings may have lower cost than current production, but the general trend in petroleum has been for lower finding rates per unit drilling.

Putting the point differently, the difficulty in valuing the stocks and flows arises because the prices of reserves are not readily available. Although the commodities, such as gold and oil, trade frequently, the underlying assets tend to trade infrequently. There is no organized market for oil or gold properties, and there is such great heterogeneity in these assets that there is no standard for classifying them as there is for oil or gold (in terms of sulfur content, purity, and the like). When reserves are transacted, the prices are not generally publicly available, which means the reserve prices are generally not observable. A further difficulty is that the tendency is to observe the value of the total bundle of assets and liabilities (reserves, associated capital, environmental liabilities, royalty and tax obligations, and so on), so that even if the transaction price were observed, the price of the mineral reserve could not readily be determined. All these complications mean that the values of reserve stocks, additions, and depletions—which are essential for the construction of national accounts for subsoil assets by BEA and other statistical agencies—must be estimated using the relevant economic and financial theories of valuation.

In principle, the heterogeneity problem could be overcome by calculating reserve values for each reserve class and then aggregating across reserve classes. This approach is likely to be quite costly, and extraction data may not be available for all reserve classes, particularly those not yet being exploited. However, since these disaggregated calculations are not undertaken by BEA, its estimated values for the total reserve stock are likely to be too high for many of the minerals.

If in fact the lowest-cost and highest-value reserves are extracted first, the use of extraction costs from current depletion will provide a biased estimate of reserve values. All of the BEA valuation methods except the transaction cost method use an inappropriate measure of reserve values based on the cost of current extraction. Although BEA does not report total mineral asset and mineral resource values separately, the estimation bias in the asset value will flow through to the calculation of the mineral value that BEA does report in Table 1, rows 36 through 41 (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 1994a). The result will be an upward bias in the

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement