The Energy Wealth of Indian Nations

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


• Currently Native American reservations are unable to develop their vast energy resources due to poorly-defined property rights. If policies were different and tribes could earn a 5% return on their energy resources, Native Americans would have additional income of $75 billion per year, and U.S. GDP would increase by as much as 0.5% per year. Thus, regulations on American Indian energy reserves  impose a huge cost on the rightful owners of those reserves and on economic growth.

• Indian reservations contain almost 30% of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, 50% of potential uranium reserves, and 20% of known oil and gas reserves— resources worth nearly $1.5 trillion, or $1.5 million per tribal member.

• Yet 86% of Indian lands with energy or mineral potential remain undeveloped because of Federal control of reservations that keeps Indians from fully capitalizing on their natural resources if they desire.

• Meanwhile, most American Indians live in poverty, with per capita income of $16,645 (compared to $27,334 for the U.S. population as a whole) and unemployment rates as high as 78% on some reservations.

• As long as tribes and individual Indians are denied the right to control their own land and resources, they will remain islands of poverty in a sea of prosperity. If tribes and individual Indians had the same rights and institutions as those living outside of reservations, they could unlock the tremendous wealth of their lands.

To read the full-length, paper click here.

Terry Anderson is a senior fellow at PERC and the former President and Executive Director of PERC as well as the John and Jean De Nault Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He believes that market approaches can be both economically sound and environmentally sensitive. His research helped launch the idea of free market...
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Shawn Regan is a research fellow and PERC and the director of outreach and publications. He holds a M.S. in Applied Economics from Montana State University and degrees in economics and environmental science from Berry College. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Quartz, High Country News, National Review, Reason, Regulation, Grist...
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