Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Oil Business Was Never Intended For Wimps....

I'm glad to see that Blogger is finally going to let me make a post. Last night I tried for hours but on the New Post all I could get was a little circle that kept turning & turning. So, this is my post for yesterday.

I actually grew up surrounded by and immersed in the oil business, although I was never fully aware of it. It couldn't be helped if you lived in early 1960's West Texas, New Mexico or Oklahoma. My mother worked in the oil industry her whole life. My grandfather started up an oil well service company after World War II and was still running it when he passed away at the ripe old age of 94, and my husband has been a land man for 33 years. When I first moved here I worked at Hunt Oil Company (taking drilling reports from pumpers, separating the bills for each side of the family, filing Railroad Commission reports, typing up Title Opinions, etc.) for two years. At that point, old man Hunt had already passed away and his three families had long before discovered the existence of the other(s), meaning the war between the legitimate and the illegitimate children had begun even before I arrived on the scene. As it was all coming to a head, the lawsuits were at long last drawing to an end. The company was basically in total chaos and it was a wild time to be working there. It was also the beginning of the oil boom of the 1970's and early 1980's, which came to an abrupt end in the mid 1980's. The price of oil dropped and life was far less than rosy for a time. For. A. Long. Time.


Drilling for oil and gas is a gambler's game. It always has been and it remains that way today. Old man Hunt was a real wild card and took countless risks when drilling for oil during the early days. Often, he was flat broke and had to barter and make deals to even get the wells drilled and his employees paid. But, he always honored his word and made sure his roughnecks could at least eat. Since much of this was done before, during, and after the Great Depression, it was commonplace for people in many industries to pay their employees with food when they couldn't make the payroll. It was especially so in the oil industry, during a time when *gut feelings* about striking oil raised many an eyebrow AND would not get you a bank loan for the the drilling equipment or the labor. Those early oil pioneers were broke as often as they were rolling in dough, gaining and losing fortunes in the blink of an eye. Most of them didn't really have a clue as to what they were doing and it hasn't changed all that much since then. Not for the guys who decide where to drill anyway.


The fact remains that men like H.L. Hunt, Sid Richardson, Clint Murchison, Roy Cullen and *Pop* Joiner amassed some of the biggest fortunes known to independent oil operators, outside the Northern Blue Bloods and their *old money*. The fortunes made from Texas oil were massive and they weren't always acquired through being honest. There are many stories about the senior Mr. Hunt and I've heard them all, along with their spin-off tales. One of my favorites is a story about Hunt trying to buy up all the leases owned by an old boy who couldn't afford to drill them. This elderly fella had spent years acquiring the leases and he wasn't going to let them go without a fight. Sensing this, Hunt goes to the guy's hotel room and puts a call in to the pumper out at the old boy's only well he could afford to drill. Hunt tells the guy he'd give him such and such amount if the well came in but if it didn't, the offer would be much less.


So, Hunt keeps taking reports from the pumper and relaying to the old guy that there's nothing yet. Then, he calls the pumper again, who was clearly excited about hitting the sandy oil (which is a sign there is A LOT of oil) and Hunt turns around and tells the old boy that there's still nothing. The rest is history because he'd just bought nearly the entire East Texas Field, one of the ten largest oil finds ever discovered. Hunt still paid the old guy millions of dollars for his leases and continued to help the fella out for many, many years. However, this was during a time when a man's handshake was his solemn word, which made it seem completely under-handed. Of course, Hunt denied it to his grave but the man denied many things that he was actually guilty of, as is well documented (including the facts that he was a polygamist as well as a blatant racist).


Anyway, working at Hunt Oil was an experience I'll never forget. Too bad I was so young and clueless at the time. I might have learned even more , but probably not. We were merely a *field office* at best, and seldom saw any of the Hunt family, if at all. After that, I worked for a local independent oil man who didn't operate wells, just invested in them, which made my life ever so much easier. I learned a huge amount working for he and his wife, who comprised the company. He was a lawyer, a Petroleum Engineer and a landman, while his wife was a geologist and organizer. They made quite a team and they were a pleasure to work for. They also became my friends.


Last summer I read a book called "The Big Rich" by Bryan Burroughs which is a wonderful read. I've learned things about the oil business I never knew and it has been quite an education......

4 comments:

The Incredible Woody said...

What an exciting environment! I would love to know more. When I hear Texas oil money, all I can conjer up is JR Ewing and Dallas:)

TSannie said...

My uncle, Carl Rau, worked for H L Hunt for years. Uncle Carl was a very nice man, but even he said Hunt was on the eccentric side.

Flea said...

Oh very cool. I grew up at the other end of the stick. My dad owned a Gulf shop and fixed cars. We poured burnt engine oil on fire ant mounds. The end.

Bodaciousboomer said...

Although I grew up in Texas I never really knew anyone involved in the oil business. The closest I've ever gotten was designing some annual reports for some drilling companies. It sounds like it was pretty interesting to be around though.

 

Blog Designed by: NW Designs