Accounting for natural resources

What are the natural resources?

Natural resources are physical substances that when extracted from the ground are converted into inventory and when sold produce revenues for the firm. Natural resources include oil, natural gas, coal, iron, uranium, and timber. These assets are often referred to as wasting assets, because once they are removed from the ground or physically consumed, they cannot be replaced.

Accounting for Natural Resources

Natural resources give up their benefits as the resources are removed. This process is called depletion and essentially follows the same process as units-of-production depreciation. That is, in order to determine the cost per unit of output, the capitalized cost of the natural resources is divided by the estimated output. This per-unit cost is then charged to depletion expense as the resources are removed.


To show how depletion is calculated, assume that the JDD Company pays $18 million for land on which to drill 0il. Other capitalized costs relating to exploration and development are $14 million and so the total cost is $32 million. The company estimates that there will be a $2 million residual value at the end of the project, and so the total depletable cost is $30 million. Geologists estimate that the oil field will produce 15 million barrels of oil over the project’s life. The depletion charge is $2 per barrel, calculated as follows:

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Accounting for natural resources

Assuming that 4.5 million barrels were produced in the current year, the depletion charge is $9 million ($4,500,000 x $2.00), and the required journal entry is:

Journal entries to record depletion

By convention, the credit is made directly to the asset account rather than a contra-asset account. The depletion expense ultimately becomes part of the cost of the oil inventory that eventually will be sold. This allocation can be accomplished by making the following journal entry:

Journal Entries to Transfer depletion expense

Other production costs such as transportation and direct labor must be included as part of the inventoriable cost of the oil. To continue our example, assume that during the year these costs amounted to $7.5 million. They would be recorded as follows:

Journal entries to record production cost of natural resources

After these entries, and assuming that no sales have yet taken place, the relevant section of JDD’s balance sheet would be as follows:

Balance sheet for natural resources

The inventory of oil is recorded in the current asset section, and the book value of the oil fields is shown in the noncurrent section under natural resources. Finally, when the barrels of oil are sold, the sale and cost of sale are recorded in the usual manner.

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