Understanding Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC) and Their Tax Benefits

Understanding Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC) and Their Tax Benefits

3 Min.

Intangible drilling costs cover essential expenses for starting an oil well. The U.S. has allowed tax deductions for these costs since 1913 to encourage investment in new, risky oil and gas well development.


Intangible drilling costs (IDC) are expenses associated with the initial stages of oil and gas well development. These costs cover essential activities like surveying, ground preparation, labor, fuel, repairs, and supplies. Despite the term "intangible," these costs encompass all real expenses except for drilling equipment, as they lack salvage value.

Tax Deduction for IDCs

Since 1913, the U.S. has provided a tax deduction for IDCs to attract investment in the risky field of oil and gas exploration. This deduction applies exclusively to domestic or offshore wells.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, this deduction allows for 60% to 80% of total drilling costs to be tax-deductible, making it one of the most significant tax incentives for the oil industry. The elimination of this deduction could save U.S. taxpayers an estimated $14 billion from 2014 to 2023.

Remarkably, this tax break is unique because it permits the complete deduction of costs in the year they are incurred, unlike most similar corporate tax incentives that are spread out over five years.

Tax Break and Industry Support

The tax break receives strong support from the industry. According to the Independent Petroleum Institute of America, these deductions have facilitated investments of hundreds of billions in new energy exploration that might not have occurred without them.

The institute highlights how this deduction fosters investment and reinvestment in oil and gas exploration, even though some drilling efforts may fail. It also mentions that various other industries, such as agriculture and technology, have similar deductions for research and development expenses.

For taxpayers opting to deduct intangible drilling costs, they should report the costs in the taxable year when they were paid or incurred.

Example of IDC and Its Benefits

To illustrate how IDC works, let's consider an example. Company XYZ decided to drill a new oil well with a total cost of $1 million. Out of this total cost, $500,000 is attributed to tangible drilling costs, such as the drilling equipment, which is not eligible for the IDC deduction.

The remaining $500,000 represents the intangible drilling costs, which include expenses like surveying, labor, repairs, and supplies. With the IDC deduction, Company XYZ can deduct a significant portion of these costs in the year they are incurred, reducing their taxable income.

Assuming a 70% IDC deduction rate, Company XYZ can deduct $350,000 ($500,000 x 70%) from their taxable income for the year. This deduction helps offset the risk and costs associated with oil and gas exploration, incentivizing companies to invest in new drilling projects.

Overall, the IDC deduction plays a crucial role in encouraging investment in the oil and gas industry by providing significant tax incentives and promoting exploration and development activities.


The tax deduction for Intangible Drilling Costs has been a significant incentive for investment in the oil and gas industry since 1913. By allowing a deduction for essential expenses in the initial stages of well development, the IDC deduction encourages exploration and development activities. This tax break has facilitated substantial investments and has played a crucial role in supporting the industry. However, discussions around the elimination of this deduction raise questions about its future impact on the sector and the overall tax system.

Intangible Drilling Costs (IDC)
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