This article evaluates whether the South China Sea's littoral states can cooperatively manage the region's contested oil and natural gas resources. By examining historical intergovernmental joint development agreements (JDAs), it argues that the prospects for significant hydrocarbon cooperation are slim undercurrent political conditions, as rival states rarely establish such accords. Moreover, creating JDAs is insufficient to prompt actual co-development of shared oil and gas deposits or improvements in states' broader relations. Nonetheless, hydrocarbon agreements do have one important positive impact. They prevent resource-related militarized confrontations, thereby reducing the risk of territorial dispute escalation. This incentive, alone, could prompt the South China Sea's claimant states to negotiate JDAs and third party states to encourage these efforts.