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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Economic and Econometric Analyses of the World Petroleum Industry, Energy Subsidies, and Air Pollution


The decisions made by petroleum producers in the world oil market are both dynamic and strategic, and are thus best modeled as a dynamic game. In the first chapter of my dissertation, I review the literature on the world oil market and discuss my research on econometric modeling of the world oil market as a dynamic game. My research on econometric modeling of the world oil market as a dynamic game research builds on the previous literature by combining three erstwhile separate dimensions of modeling the world oil market: dynamic optimization, game theory, and econometrics.

In the second chapter of my dissertation, I develop and estimate a structural econometric model of the dynamic game among petroleum-producing firms in the world petroleum market. My model incorporates the dynamic behavior and strategic interactions that arise as petroleum-producing firms make their investment, production, merger, and acquisition decisions. I allow firms that are at least partially state-owned to have objectives other than profit maximization alone. I use the structural econometric model to analyze the effects of changes in OPEC membership, a ban on mergers, the privatization of state-owned oil companies, and demand shocks on the petroleum industry. Although I do not assume or impose that OPEC producers collude to maximize joint profits, but instead infer the strategy and payoffs for OPEC firms from the data, I find that OPEC behaves in such a way that is consistent with its mission and also with cartel behavior. Results of counterfactual simulations also show that a ban on mergers would decrease average firm payoff for both OPEC and non-OPEC firms, and decrease consumer surplus.

Gasoline taxes have been touted by many economists as an efficient and relatively simple tool to address environmental concerns and other problems associated with gasoline consumption. Nevertheless, rather than removing subsidies and increasing gasoline taxes, many countries still subsidize gasoline, which may have the opposite effect of exacerbating air pollution and other problems associated with gasoline consumption. The Iranian government has heavily subsidized petroleum products since the early 1980s. As a result of these energy subsidies and artificially low national energy price, Iran is one of the most energy-intensive countries in the world. The Iranian government has recently taken a series of measures to reform and cut back on the energy subsidies. In the third chapter of my dissertation, I evaluate the effects of the Iranian subsidy reform on air quality using a regression discontinuity design. My results provide evidence across multiple different empirical specifications that the subsidy reform in Iran led to improvements in air quality. In particular, the first subsidy reform event, which increased gasoline prices and implemented a gasoline consumption quota; and the second subsidy reform event, which increased energy prices and decreased energy subsidies, both led to declines in concentrations of CO, O3, and NO2. In contrast, the fourth subsidy reform event, which increased fuel prices but removed the gasoline consumption quota, was less effective in reducing air pollution.

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