THE DEADEYE CHRONICLES
Deadeye Chronicles: These short true stories chronicle an average boy growing up along the Trinity River on the edge of the East Texas “Big Thicket”. Later going to College, and working in the Texas Oil Patch. If nothing more, this tells the truth with candor and details about adventure and making money in the oil business. I was mentored and helped by family, friends and strangers at every turn with my wife a steady partner. I would hope these stories show some young geologist with no money, what is possible if they have a burning desire to find oil and gas and the persistence to learn and pursue simple truths and credibility. We started in a house trailer and worked our way to having it all. I was told that “You can make as much money as you want within reason” I believed it and it was true. I was also told, “Money is easy to make, once you understand what it takes.” I think you will agree after reading a few of the stories. They are not documentaries but tales by an old man recalling events. A few names are changed to protect the innocent and all are my opinions from my memory and viewpoint. They are not intended to slight or hurt anyone but to encourage Young Geologists to simply go get rich finding oil and gas. The opportunity is still there.
#1 Frog Gigging and Alligators
#2 Squirrel Hunting – Learning when to run
#3 Fishing for the Big One
Adult Deadeye Chronicles
#1 How Independent Geologists find oil and gas
#2 How Geologists make Money
#3 Good Oil Scout Worth his Weight in Gold
#4 Dove Hunt leads to Bonanza
#5 Patience, Work and Luck finds the Mother-lode
#6 Farmer Goes from Outhouse to Rich
#7 Go on Guts when Information is Lacking
#8 What does a geologist do at a Drilling Rig?
#9 The Dreaded B Word: BLOWOUT
#10 Let’s talk about Oil and Gas Leases/Greed
#11 How Mother Found an Oil Well while in her 80s
#12 Contrast how Major Company geologists find Oil and Gas
#13 A young stupid greedy geologist – me
#14 Oil Gas Fields I Left behind
#15 Undrilled Mother-lode
#16 Major Company buys “promoted” half interest in prospect.
# 17 Why do just a few geologists find most of the oil and gas?
# 18 How to Buy at Ground Floor level
# 19 Create Win, Win, win situation for all jnvolved
# 20 A simple Prayer for a Dry Hole
# 21 A personal Flying adventure
# 22 The story of Damascus Deep
# 23 Notes on How Geologist Find Oil & Gas
#24 Birdnest on the Ground
#25 My Friend Clark made a Billion Dollar Mistake
#26 Some Oilmen are Polecats
#27 Blowouts – how they happen
#28 Broke Oilmen
#29 Rank Wildcat Exploration
#30 Big money made on Dry Hole – Heresy!
#31 Secretes of Finding OIL and GAS
#32 Crooks Big and Little
#33 The Last Flight
A foreword that these are true stories subject to senior memory lapses and exaggerations. A few names have been changed to protect the innocent and the stories are not in chronological order. They clearly show the teenager mentality of being “bullet proof”, lack of judgment in some cases and showing the sheer – some will say excess freedom I enjoyed much of my life. I was a youth with a “Hell for Leather father” that encouraged and allowed his son maximum freedom to development his own judgment, make his own mistakes and enjoy his youth to the fullest.
I was given expert guidance “to take or leave” on every phase of life. A young teenager of 14 with a driver’s license and access to a jeep, the things that got my immediate attention were the outdoors.
I was exposed to Cajun duck guides, “Colored” meat hunters, world class shots and fishermen. Best of all, I and my companions had access to many thousands of acres of hunting places on ranches and farms along the Trinity that most could only dream or read about now. In those days most anyone would let even a stranger camp, hunt and fish on their land if they promised to be careful of the livestock and offered to bring them a few dressed doves, quail, ducks, or maybe a turkey or a deer ham. That world was simply paradise. Let a lifetime of adventures be recalled:
# 1 FROG GIGGING:
Suddenly a blood curdling scream and the anguished painful cry, “a gator’s got me” Loper goes under water with our only light! The quiet has turned to
pandemonium in pitch blackness and terror. The water is churning and splashing where Loper went down –
Maybe we better start at the beginning: Before freshman math class Loper suggested that we go frog gigging tonight since it was late spring and warm enough for the Bullfrogs to be out – Otis wants to go this time since he has not been before. OK, ask Neal if he wants to go tonight after supper then we can all spend the night at our house since it will be late by the time we get back. Little did I know we would be spending some of this Friday night at the hospital!
I doubt that one person in 100,000 has ever been Frog Gigging or has a clue what that is. However in small East Texas communities along the Trinity River it was something to do at night before there was Television. It is fun, adventuresome and the large Bull Frog legs are much like white chicken meat and the size of a drumstick, very good fried. Yes, Fried alligator tail steaks are also quite good, a cross between beef and pork.
A frog gig is a three or four pronged spike with barbs on the sharp ends so the frog can’t wiggle off once he has been gigged (spiked). The gig is attached to a ten or twelve foot pole or cane which is better because it is lighter to carry. The objective is to gig a frog at a distance before he gets spooked and jumps into the water and gets away into the night. Loper had a new fangled “automatic” frog gig that he said was really good and better that the old pronged ones that had been in use for a hundred years. Mine had belonged to my grandfather. Loper’s new one had a strong spring and two razor sharp jaws that were held open by a trigger between the jaws. All you had to do was touch the frog and the jaws would slam shut and impale him in the grip of the steel jaws with no way to jump or get away.
Pinwaugh slough is an old river cut-off about two miles long and one quarter mile wide, from ankle depth to about twelve feet deep. Mostly wooded and brushy in the shallow half with cypress trees, water oaks, pin oaks and Button Willow bushes and lots of floating logs etc. A virtual river bottom swamp with palmettos and lily pads in places. A paradise for frogs, coons, ducks, turtles and things that like to eat them – like Alligators which get to
be twelve to fourteen feet in length around here. Around certain lakes, it is possible to walk along the bank and gig the frogs but not a here. The frogs sit 50 or 100 yards or more out in the lake on logs and stumps. Here the water is knee deep to waist deep so we wade to reach the frogs. They are easy to find because their eyes reflect a spot light and glow with an eerie yellowish tint. Alligator eyes reflect and glow a bright red like a car reflector so there is no mistaking a gator’s eyes when you see them which is often. Normally the gators move away from you unless you happen to get near their nest or newly hatched young gators. They hatch from a large egg and are about five inches long and are easily found as they whine similar to a cocker Spaniel puppy when are feel in danger and are calling their mother gator.
Well it was almost midnight and we had been wading along among the floating clutter gigging a half tow sack of frogs in near waist deep water. We were seeing lots of alligators all around us of different sizes which you can tell by the distance between their red fiery eyes. We were telling Otis lots of scary alligator stories since he was new in town and hadn’t done this before. Loper was in front with our only working spotlight. Neal forgot his light and my batteries had already gone dead. Otis was second in line carrying Loper’s new automatic gig. I was next and Neal was in back dragging the frog tow sack in the water. There was no moon, black as pitch except for the spotlight Loper was carrying. It was deathly quiet with only the hum of an occasional mosquito and the gentle sloshing of water made by us four wading along in near waist deep water.
Suddenly a blood curdling scream and the anguished painful cry,“a gator’s got me!” Loper goes under water with our only light! The quiet has turned to pandemonium in pitch blackness and terror. The water is churning and splashing were Loper went down – Otis runs over me trying to get away – Neal has thrown down the bag of frogs and is struggling toward the shore – I am trying to get to Loper as he comes up still screaming in pain. His light now comes up to show the water turning red with blood – all in a few seconds! No sign of an alligator! What the Hell Happened?
Here is the answer: Wading in the dark in the waist deep water, Otis didn’t notice that the end of his pole with automatic gig had slipped beneath the water and it hit the back of Loper’s leg. This triggered the sharp steel jaws to slam shut and dig deeply in the calf of Loper’s leg. Not realizing what had happened – he yelled gator! We opened the jaws, and got to the shore where we put a torque on Loper’s leg and then a compression pad from a first aid kit when we got back to the jeep. A trip to the hospital and thirty two stitches for Loper’s leg.
For several years we all laughed about that little adventure until Otis was killed in Korea and Neal died in a car wreck. I need to go visit Loper in the nursing home.
#2 Squirrel Hunting – Learning when to Run
Growing up is a constant learning experience and we learned more from this squirrel hunt than we expected. We had been planning this camping trip all week in early fall. The plan was to leave after school on Friday and camp on the Trinity River at Jenkins’s bend. This was very isolated across private property thru several gates on little more than a jeep trail the last two miles. An old river long boat was kept chained to a tree there to across this 150 yard wide river. Once across the river we would be on the 6000 acre McMurry Ranch which we had permission to hunt on. On that side it was a three mile walk to the nearest road so this was an isolated heavily wooded camping/hunting paradise. Four of us loaded into the jeep and went through the Whisenhunt cotton farm then along the river bluff bank, through their back gate onto the Jenkin’s estate property and finally down the narrow overgrown jeep trail which dead ended at the river at Jenkins’s bend – the perfect camp site in heavy timber overlooking the river. After cooking supper over the campfire, we were finishing off the last of the Pork and Beans and Mulligan Stew when low and behold an old Chevy drove up. Three twenty year old Navy veterans emerged drinking beer and told us they were camping about two miles up the river and were out exploring around. After a little small talk the subject turned to gambling and soon we were all engaged in a crap game with the stakes getting higher and higher. Navy fancied themselves real gamblers and drinkers from their Navy experience and offered us kids some of their beer, We took one can each but no more as they drank heavily. We had all played penny ante poker and shot craps for matches and small stakes for years and were more experienced than Navy had imagined of high school boys. To make a long story short, we won all their money, several hundred dollars worth in rather short order. That was quite a lot of money in those days! Out of money and very tight they left and we prepared to bed down around our campfire in the quite, still and chilly night air. After lying in our bed rolls rehashing the crap game, old hunting stories and girls for awhile, the talk came to an end as we were starting to drift off to sleep. Suddenly the quiet was shattered from the woods beyond our campfire light – a clear “clink clank” the unmistakable sound of a shell being loaded into the barrel of a pump shotgun! We all heard it except Curtis who was already asleep. We knew instantly that real trouble was imminent. We quietly woke Curtis and whispered to each other to quietly crawl behind the jeep where our guns were leaning against a tree. Once we had our guns, we motioned to each other to retreat over the second riverbank while being covered by the others. Once we were all below the bank and out of sight and out of any line of fire, we all ran like hell south along the river’s sand-bar edge, resting and listening every few hundred yards until we were about a mile down the river. There we held a “pow-wow” to assess the situation and our next move. We were scared, unsure of these drunk’s intentions, and unanimous agreed that the right thing to do was run from trouble. We hoped that maybe they were just trying to scare us or maybe they were going to rob us and take their money-back. About then we could hear them calling us from half a mile up the river where they had followed our tracks. They were hollowing for us to come on back, that they wouldn’t hurt us. We were not buying and not going to take any chances. We went further down the river to a good defensive position and settled down and waited. After awhile we curled up against some logs to sleep as we took turns at sentry duty. After daylight we went back to our camp and no one was there. Our bags had been dumped out and gone through but nothing was missing except some groceries. We each had our billfolds in our pants pockets. So our money was safe with no real damage done to us or our belongings. Needless to say we were relieved because we realized how close this had come to being a real disaster beyond belief. If one of those Navy guys had charged out of the woods into the light of our campfire with that loaded gun, while we were behind the jeep and a couple of large trees, it is no doubt in my mind that he would have been shot by one or all of us in what we would have thought was an act of self defense. Maybe it was just their drunk prank to scare us. Who knows? In hindsight,
at least we had the good sense to know when to run like Hell to avoid trouble. After a quick breakfast, we crossed the river in the old long boat kept at this crossing to the safety of the other side for our planed day of squirrel hunting. Of course our hearts were no longer in hunting – just killing time to make sure Navy was gone before we went back up the jeep trail past where they said they were camped. Later as we expected, they were gone and we were wiser teenagers after that adventure. We now knew: when to run!
# 3 Fishing for the Big One
It wasn’t unusual for four or five of my friends to go on weekend camping/fishing trips in the spring to some of the isolated lakes along the Trinity that were accessible only by a jeep in the black-land river bottom mud. This trip was to “Snag Lake” a desolate old Ox-bow river cut-off lake of about 40 acres. By time we got there after school it was getting dark so Otis and Neal set up camp and prepared a fire to cook supper as Beamon and I set out some “Trout Lines” pronounced Trot Lines to catch some large Blues 20 to 60 lbs and the smaller Yellow Catfish 5 to 10 lbs which are the better eating of the two. There is a fine art to doing this correctly as any farmboy knows. Attach the end of the line to a flexable limb along the bank and the other end of the fifty foot line to a large flexable “buttom-willow limb out in the lake with about 20 dangling hooks in between bated with crayfish or small sun perch. Tie a large Cow Bell to the limb and you will know when you have a fish on the line. Next you retired to the campfire to tell tales and lies about girls and things and talk about the crappie (pronounced Croppie) fish and the largemouth Bass we would be catching the next day.
Well we had barely finished eating some fried sausage and rise for supper when we heard our cow bell ringing. Otis and I went out in the 10 foot skiff to get the fish and re-bate the hook while Beamon and Neal cleaned up the frying pan and dishes. We didn’t hear the bell anymore and as we neared the Button Willow, we shined the light just in time to see the bell and the limb come up out of the water and plunge back underwater. This has to be a
really big BlueCat to pull that hard. Otis finally got hold of the line and with great effort worked the monster to the surface alongside the boat. Otis said, “He is huge – must be 60 lbs or more” as he plunged back down. Otis strained and up his head came! – Holy Crap! It is a huge fifteen foot Alligator now that we got the light on him for a good look. Dropped the line and back paddled as fast as possible, thankful he didn’t sink out boat with a swish of this tail. We cut the other end of our trot Line and tied it to a large solid stump on the bank so the gator could pull the hook out or break the line and get away. That was the highlight of that trip and the crappie and bass stories couldn’t compete on that trip. I think we learned if you get hold of more than you bargained for – simply back off!
THE DEADEYE CHRONICLES
I realized that very few people had a clue about what an Independent Exploration Geologist really did. When I was in college few of my fellow students had a clue either. Everyone has this major company image of a geologist with a pick standing on an outcrop on top of a mountain in his sheep skin jacket smoking a marboro cigarette. Or maybe a guy in a lab wearing a white flock holding a beaker of oil. I was raised in the oil patch and knew better. The geologists I knew drove up in a new Cadillac, were hard drinking, high stakes poker players and had money to burn. Most were respectable J.R. types with yachts and airplanes and were enjoying life to the fullest. The hardest work I saw them do was unroll their geologic map, and point in the direction of where the next well would be drilled after examining a schlumberger log and declaring the the well was a producer instead of a dry hole. All exciting stuff to a rig brat. I found out it was as easy as it looked and more fun than I imagined.
There are many different nooks or avenues, for Geologists:
5. Finding Energy and earning an interest in the reserves.
The first four normally make a cash fees or salary and earn no interest. Ninety five percent of Geology chose one or more of the first four and never get-rich. Why? Lots of reasons but 90% of Geologist never find a drop of oil or MCF of gas and maybe 5% find or contribute to finding reserves for a company they work for and may get a small raise or bonus for their effort and success.
The fifth above is what I will concentrate on as this is the best place to get wealthy by finding and earning an interest in these reserves. Also this is an area where one does not to have to have money to invest. I will touch on investing in energy but that is very difficult and not the picture I wish to convey. True examples show how easy this is if one is trained to think out of the box and recognize opportunity when it appears and then act. EDIT: The key is earning interests for one’s knowledge and work.
Over a long lifetime of exploring for oil and gas, I have found prospects and production in many varied basic ways and some will surprise you like they surprised me and some were so easy as to be almost unbelievable. I must add that some of the very best looking prospects on paper turned out to be dry holes. I earned interest in over sixty Oil and gas producers, drilled my fair share of dry holes. and bought various interests in others, both good and bad. My first earned production: A 7500 ft gas well in a so called “depleted” gas field named Copeland Creek, Polk County Texas. It paid me about $900 a month which was enough to pay my rent, grocery bill, car payment with lots left over way back then. How did I find it and earn a free interest?
Doing basic, classic exploration research, building geologic maps of a limited area of interest to see where, and why the known oil in the area is there and
then look for similar “look alike” situations that haven’t been drilled already. One goes to a geologic library or state agency that has files of all the old wells drilled and all the fields and the production data on each well. There are many hundreds of thousands of old wells in Texas so there is a mountain of data that thousands of geologist examine over and over again looking for clues that others have missed or judged insignificant. The oil and gas Division of the Texas Railroad Commission has district offices with the central offices in Austin. The Bureau of Economic Geology is also there plus the Balcones Research Center that has public information that few know about or have seen – a real treasury chest of old logs, cores, maps, reports and data so massive they do not know what they have hidden away in massive storage areas. I found an old well log there that none of the major company or commercial libraries had.
Copeland Creek was a classic gas field that has been discovered and developed by Abercrombie, Shell Oil, Texas Gulf Sulfur and others. All wells had long since been plugged and abandoned as the wells depleted. The geology was a simple structural closure against an up to the coast 200’ fault that had been found by an early seismic survey. The production records showed some of the wells quit abruptly and several blew down losing pressure evenly over several years. I suspected some had died because of water encroachment from a down dip water drive and the others were in closed isolated sands that simply blew down like empting a tank. I needed more information and evidence beyond the available records.
I traveled to the area and located the old retired gauger, Mr. Elmer, who had worked on the old abandoned wells years earlier. We talked for hours about his life in the oil patch and all the wells he had worked on. Finally he said, “I probably still have my old daily tally books of those old wells someplace, if I can find them” Twenty minutes later I was examining well production data that no other geologist had ever seen! It proved to me that there was a water drive in some sands so there would likely be “attic” gas remaining at an updip location. Back to the maps and constructed detailed correlations and cross sections.
Wala! Plain as day to an eye that wanted to see – the most updip well that slowly blew down was in a different, unconnected sand and 60 acres of gas remained un-tapped. Hundreds of other geologists that looked at the data had simply mis-correlated the sands that the fault had cut out of the section.
OK, I have found a gas prospect that has a good chance of producing, how to I make some money out of it? If you show a money making idea around that you do not have control of, it will likely be stolen from you and you will get nothing except maybe peanuts for the idea and prospect.
So here is what I did since I had zero money at the time. I got a friend to put up the money to buy a lease on the 80 acres covering the prospect for a part interest in the deal. Then I showed it to several oil companies that turned it down. Why? They said that smart people like Shell Oil and the others would have never walked away if the geology was as my maps and cross sections showed. They simply didn’t believe the interpretation of a young Geologist still wet behind the ears!
Dejected in the coffee shop at the Lamar Hotel in Houston, I ran across another geologist who had made some money and he took the deal on the spot after looking at it in a back booth. The lease and well cost me zero and I got a carried interest for a few weeks work. The well drilled out perfectly with virgin pressure and paid all my expenses for several years as I looked for more prospects. Classic exploration as taught to me by my college instructors.
(addendum: All geologic schools are not equal and here is why I choose the Univ of Houston over great schools like Texas and Oklahoma. U. of H. taught practical Geology and the other taught theoretical classic geology. The professors at U. of H. had practical working experience and some taught night classes after their work day. They were not acidemic eggheads. H.B. Stenzil was the last of the great working surface Geologist of East Texas. Therefore I was able to hit the ground running without years of training by some oil company training program. I worked up two sellable prospects before I graduated – both turned out to be dry holes. Also I took most all of
my electives in Geology so I had more Geologic knowledge than many with masters degrees.)
About-these-true-stories: A few names have been changed to protect the innocent and these are stories not documentary reports so various data, depths, survey names etc are estimated and subject to Senior Moments of an old man who is recalling events and stories across a long life time and not an attempt to document anything – other than it was a fun trip.
These stories are not in chronological order as indeed I had three dry holes before I found my first production. I also had earlier bought an interest in a shallow well with saving I had made over several summers while still in high school. Yes my first oil investment was a 1/256 working interest in a shallow 3200 foot cheap oil prospect. It made a small well and I sold the interest to an oilman from Beaumont and used that money in college. I will state many times that earning an interest in a producer is much easier than investing and getting a producer. I will elalborate on that later.
I found out it was as easy as it looked and more fun than I imagined. Oh, there were hard times that I quicky forgot about when getting started and paying my dues to get experience. Working the grave yard shift on a mud logging unit, and holidays in the freezing rain sampling and describing cores on a rig pipe ramp. A whole different world than most imagine that a geologist works for a nice salary from a major oil company. Many do of coarse but the romance and real money is in being an Independent exploring for the mother lode. I worked awhile for an Independent and learned first hand how an Independent made deals, found oil and made money. It was as easy as I thought and fun too.
Hopefully my true stories give an insight and taste of the real world of the hard working, lucky Independent exploration Geologist. I will come back to how I first went Independent but first let’s talk about how we actually find oil and gas and how easy or frustrating it can be.
#2 How Geologists make Money
QUICK-AND-EASY Sometimes money just drops in front of you to pick up – if ones recognizes oppertunity and acts quickly. No work required just knowledge. I will tell the short version.
One afternoon, I learned Gulf oil company was buying trend leases across two counties. I got out my maps, made a number of phone calls to people I knew in those counties and spotted leases they had bought and were negoiating on with the landowners. After a few hours, I was able to draw the trendlines (upper and lower). It was trendinng along the Gulf coast ene to wsw and about five miles wide. My regional geologic knowledge told me this coincided with a deep 20,000 foot hinge line that indicated a deep reef of Sligo geologic age. Although I knew of no wells drilled deep enough to penetract or test this potential oil and gas reservoir.
Now what to do? Can I profit from this knowledge? I have no money to compete with Gulf and they would freeze me out if I tried. Walla! I had an idea. I projected the trend ahead to the next county well ahead of Gulf’s buying. Just as I thought, at the county line it crossed lake Livingston. I knew that the surface tracts had been bought by the lake authority but the landowners still had their minerals and leasing rights although they were considered worthless being under the lake.
I picked out a large 1000 acre tract in the middle of the trend and middle of the lake and began making calls to locate the owner. I explained that I would lease his tract for $1.00 an acre on pure speculation and try to get a major company interested in putting his lease in their trend acreage block and maybe eventually get a well drilled which could then make his retained royalty interest worth a fortune if productive. He agreed to my offer and said go to work on it.
I then called a landman friend in Dallas. Told him to go get the lease signed before breakfast and pay for it with a 30 day sight draft on my bank. He called me about 9:00AM that he had the lease. I called the head landman at
called me about 9:00AM that he had the lease. I called the head landman at Gulf Oil and offered him the lease for less than I knew he was paying east of there. It was in his buy lines and we made a verbal agreement and the deal was done with papers and checks to follow in a few days.
Gulf was happy to get the lease with no expense to his landmen, the land owner was happy to have a shot at getting rich and I was happy to make two years wages – all in less than 24 hours. Now that was Quick and easy — even if no production was found.
#3 A GOOD OIL SCOUT IS WORTH HIS WEIGHT IN GOLD
All the major companies have oil scouts who daily scout for new information. About 30 of them meet in Houston once a week to compare and swap information. Many Independents have part time scouts who keep their ear to the ground for tidbits of information. About a 1000 drilling rigs are constantly drilling new wells in Texas, some take a week to drill and the deep ones take months to drill. How valuable is a bit of timely information? Plenty!
One winter evening my supper was interrupted by a phone call from an employee with a bit of information he thought I should know. He had been driving by a drilling rig beside the highway for about two weeks while coming and going to his deer lease. He had made it a point to always stop and talk to the drilling crew and on occasion would get an extra dozen donuts to drop off at the rig. The crew was always talkative about how deep they were and how things were progressing which was normal.
That afternoon when he stopped by, the crew clamed up and wouldn’t tell him how deep they were or what was going on. In fact they admitted that the company had said the well was a “tite hole” meaning no information was to be released to anyone. Well friends that is a red flag and whistles! A casual look around revealed considerable oil on the reserve pit and oily mud on the entire rig – the well had encountered an oil sand and kicked, although it was now under control. Pipe trucks were unloading production casing. You don’t do this unless you know you have a well.
Now that is not all that unusual but going “tite” all at once means they have something to hide or some reason to not want anyone to know they likely had a discovery as this was a wildcat well and no nearby production. Opportunity knocks – I must act.
I went to the Geologic Log Library about 10:00 PM and let myself in with my key. Oilmen think nothing of working all night, weekends and holidays when opportunity knocks. By morning I had examined all the logs of the old dry-holes in the area, worked out the stratigraphy, structure, fault patterns and determined their drilling prospect was a structural closure against an unusual up to the coast fault at Wilcox depth. I took my lease map home with me as I suspected they did not own all the leases in the indicated productive area.
After breakfast I started calling and locating the near by landowners with the help of a friend that worked in a local title abstract company. Wala! By 10:00AM I had located a nearby landowner, a widow woman who had not leased her 80 acres although she had been approached several weeks before. She was rather perturbed that they would not pay her asking price and had simply proceeded to drill and apparently leave her out! Needless to
say, I agreed to her asking price and futhermore agreed to drill her a well within 90 days. I sent a landman to get the lease signed and file it of record in the county clerks office.
He filed the lease of record at the Court House and within hours I had a call from the company in Houston wanting my new lease. Within the week I had made a deal that they would drill a well on my lease to earn half interest in it. To them half was better than nothing in a lease in their new field. The well produced 160 barrels per day for several years to the delight of me and the landowner. A tidbit of timely information and the knowledge of how to profit from it in exchange for a little lost sleep.
#4 Dove Hunt Leads to Bonanza
How would you like to be paid a $million for going on a dove hunt?
I was invited to go on a dove hunt and I never turn down a chance to pit my 410 gauge Winchester full choke pump against all comers! The landowner owned the surface 100 acres with several stock tanks and a premium crop of goat weed that was just popping the seeds which doves just love. I picked out a nice log to sit on in the shade of a large oak tree which seemed to be in the flyway of the doves coming to dinner.
An old lease gauger drove by and I flagged him over as I was curious about two shallow pumping oil wells on the property. He parked in the shade and he was hungry to tell me of his 20 years experiences in gauging these old wells. We talked until it was time to move to the dove watering hole.
His story was most interesting. He worked on drilling this shallow 3200’ field when it was discovered 20 years earlier and then gauged the wells ever since. They drilled five wells, all productive of about 30 barrels a day and this was back when oil was $2.25 a barrel. The company geologist said the field was fully developed so they stopped before they drilled any dry-holes.
Water-flooding fields to recover more oil had just become popular so the company engineer got them to drill a water injection well in the center to make a modified five spot pattern. The engineer has excess salt water coming from a deeper well that he needed to dispose of, so this killed two birds with one shot. I was shooting a limit of doves as we talked.
The deeper well began making more salt water so they kept increasing the amounts they were pumping in the shallow oil sand. Way too much in fact and it flooded out 4 of the 5 oil wells. Quite a stupid mistake! They plugged and abandoned three well and kept producing one well which was not flooded out.
Now get this – twenty years later that well was still making the same 30 bbls of oil per day! The second well that had been flooded out to 95% water had gradually over the years had the water decrease to 10% water with the oil! I almost shot my foot off when I realized what he had just said!
These wells were screaming, “we are draining a much larger area and a bigger field than anyone realizes”. All the surrounding leases were open and could be bought for peanuts. I flew to Austin the next day to examine the old production records in detail. I called my landman from Austin and told him to update titles and prepare leases of our new undiscovered oil field. This was a gimmie tap in putt!
The first well we drilled was good for 30 barrels per day and we kept expanding the field until we had twenty one wells in the buried sand bar that extended three miles. We only drilled three dry-holes. Thirty six years later, I still get a monthly check from these wells – as the oil price has gone up to compensate for the production decline. Dumb luck? Or a little smart involved – you decide
#5 Patience, work and Luck finds the Mother lode
Some things take so long as to be unbelievable.
How long and how many Geologists does it take to find a major field?
Most people use to be familiar with The East Texas Woodbine Field discovered in 1932 on the west flank of the Sabine uplift.. For decades it was the biggest field in the World before mid-east and Alaska fields. In 1937, the geologic literature speculated about the existence of a similar field on the south side of the Sabine uplift at a depth too deep to drill with limited technology at the time. My work found that field (Damascus) forty years later. I named the prospect for the nearby local “Damascus Church”. It is quite a mystery story, the truth being stranger than fiction.
Now how did a young geologist find this Mother Lode? Patience, long hours of hard word and incredible luck is the answer. I worked and mapped this four county area for several years following George Michell of Houston and Sinclair Oil Co. who were having some success in the area. I managed to promote and earn interests in several deep 10,000 ft. Wodbine gas wells in Polk County operated by Belco Petroleum Co. and Delta Drilling Company . But I was looking for a big multi well field, not just a single well here and there in someone else’s field.
Finally Hunt’s Placid oil company drilled a well in northern Polk County that was looking for a deep Sligo reef at 14,000 like their Black Lake field on the SE side of the Sabine uplift. This was a “tite – hole” absolutely no information to outsiders. My mapping indicated this well was located in an area that could contain the fabled Woodbine sand pinched out against the
south flank of the huge Sabine uplift. I needed information on this well during the three months it would take to drill it.
I sent an employee to have breakfast at the same café where the Placid night crew ate breakfast each day. My man talked deer hunting, fishing and how things were going at the drilling rig. One morning I got a call that the Placid well had encountered a five foot drilling break (5’ of soft sand) and the well had a gas kick and the crew spent all night mixing barite to increase the mud weight to hold it from blowing out! By counting the 90’ stands of pipe in the derrick on the last bit trip, thru field glasses, we knew within a hundred feet of their depth.
Summary, a five foot thick porus sand that contained gas at approximately 9200 depth – the exact depth where the Woodbine sand should be! All very,
very significant. How is that for a morning drilling report from a “tite hole”?
I expected when Placid got to total depth, they would run pipe and test their Woodbine gas sand as a new discovery in a huge new field. But they didn’t! They plugged the well as a dry hole with no further testing. I was supprised to say the least. Placid owned a 50,000 acre lease block surrounding the well so nothing could be done and no logs, cores or data on the well was available. I got busy on other drilling prospects and forgot about that well.
Six months later, I was working at my drafting table when an old friend walked up behind me and I almost spilled a bottle of ink on a week’s work when he said, How would you like to farm-in the Placid lease block in Polk County?" He had come to me because he knew I was considered the expert on that particular area. He continued that he had lunch with Margaret Hunt yesterday and said they were going to drop the leases rather than pay another yearly rental next year. My friend suggested to Margaret that he knew someone who would farm-in the acreage and drill another well with Placid having a free carried interest. Walla! Hell yes, I wanted that acreage!
The next morning I was in Placid’s Dallas office bright and early to have an unrestricted look at all the files and records which no one outside the company had seen. As I plowed through the data, my heart sang. I was certain they had plugged a productive gas well and it was likely in the very edge of a huge new gas field! I can not explain the euphoria that I felt, simply too good to be true!
Within days, the deal papers were signed, We would get 8000 acres of our choosing, drill a 9500 ft woodbine well and carry Placid for a free 40% back-in working interest after payout of our drilling costs.
Now sell the deal and get myself and my friend and an associate a nice free carried interest or overriding royalty interest. I knew just who would buy it- Lone Star Gas Company, they had money and needed more gas reserves. They took the deal and wanted to drill a new well about 2000’ south of the Placid well expecting to find forty ft of Woodbine sand. They drilled the well and found zero sand. They declined to drilled another well to the north and released the Placid farm-in back to me.
Why would they not drill another well and return the Placid farm-in to me? Because – Get this: Lone Star took the Placid deal from me and sold it to a sister company and the dry hole was paid for by their institutional investors in New York. Count the middlemen, Placid, me, Lone star, Clover, investors and there was probably another layer before someone wrote the check. That is the promotion left on the table that I will talk about later.
This time I sold the deal to Hinton Drilling company and the deal was to re-enter the Placid well, clean it out, run production casing and test flow the five ft sand to see if it was a freak sand lens or was tied into a larger reservoir. My partner and I agreed to furnish Hinton investors by selling the deal for them. A great deal for them as they would be making money using their own drilling rig and have an interest in what was a likely to be a large new discovery.
Mother nature and the hand of fate made one last attempt to keep her un-discovered huge field from being discovered. The original well records showed only normal cement plugs in the top of the old surface casing and another cement plug at 1200 feet to protect the fresh water sands in the area. Suprise! At about 2000 feet the reamer bit hit junk in the hole. Someone has thrown metal junk in the hole to keep someone like me from re-entering the well. Joints of junk 2 tubing, old subs, and other metal junk into the hole. The Hinton rig would fish out one piece only to find another and this went on for days making very little progress.
Finally we were well over budget and everyone was running out of patience and money. We decided one afternoon that if the morning report showed we were still in junk – we would call in the dogs and tell the investors that we recommended abandoning the re-entry project as too expensive with no relief in sight.
Morning came and the morning drilling report showed we were through the junk and going in the hole rapidly to our prospect depth. The hand of fate had again intervened on my behalf and I was over-joyed!
Within a week the well was successfully completed and for 3,000MCF per day and acted like it was tied into a large reservoir. We immediately proposed a second well 2000’ northwest and Placid balked and threw a fiit. They believed we were drill happy and they proposed they trade their 40% Working interest for a 12.5% carried overriding royalty interest. We couldn’t have been happier – they were trading away 27.0% of a huge gas field to save their part of the drilling cost.
Walla yet again! Why would they do such a stupid thing? We didn’t know at the time but yes Hunt was already aware that his tit was in the wringer over his silver dealing and cash had to be conserved. We farmed-in the rest of their acreage that my maps showed were productive.
We spent the next two years drilling and developing this major find. I will skip the adventure and fun we had doing this as dozens of stories could be written about this happy period. I have a 36" picture of a well flaring 9,000 MCF gas per day that we took late one night when we flare the well for the sole purpose of making that picture. In hindsight, we burned several thousand dollars worth of gas while taking the picture. I sent the negative to California to a company who put it on canvas and made expensive copies for each of our investors to hang on their office walls.
I also bought some prized Damascus knives for each of the investors as conversation pieces of the Damascus story.
Bottomline: The Damascus field complex had 25 wells on 640 acre spacing, covering 16,000 acres and I earned an interest in all but one on the edge. Very lucky, indeed!
I have to digress from how oil is found to explain the results of finding oil. Most people only think that finding oil benefits big rich oil companies. Most don’t understand that finding oil is new money – it is not money that comes from the pocket of someone else. This new money benefits the schools and County governments directly by huge taxes. It benefits untold landowners and pass heirs and royalty owners that sometimes are not aware they even own anything from their deceased grandfather that they don’t even remember. Many have lived out of state for fifty years or more.
I found a small 160 acre oil field (Dallarsville) that we developed with four productive wells that each made 160 barrels per day. It was a classic exploration as taught in geologic schools. Simply find an old well that had a show of oil that was not productive and work out the geology around the well to find a better location – generally up dip in a higher structural position. Easy, I drilled up-dip to an old ;Oil Reserve K-1 dry hole and found the main field that the old well had barely missed. How did Oil Reserve miss this field?
It is amazing what a small place and community the oil Patch really is. Oh Texas is big but it is a small oil world as everybody knows or knows of the competition and yes works with and helps each other. We trade information and pieces of the puzzel that help find new oil and gas fields. I have been given and given others valuable information that led to finding new oil and gas fields as these stories abundantly show.
When I first got out of college I did some well sitting for a very active, good company named Oil Reserves which drilled hundreds of wells along the upper Texas gulf coast. They shot lots of seismic and found lots of oil and gas as they concentrated on geologic zones that others had not worked so closely, one being the middle and lower Wilcox. Years later I was given some old out of date Oil Reserve seismic data (a story within itself). This seismic tape data showed the Dollardsville prospect and why the K-1 was a dry hole.
Since O.R. was looking for middle Wilcox production, they drilled the crest of that closure. However the crest of the upper wilcox was 2000 ft north so they only had oil shows and missed the productive area. A perfect set up but they declined to drill a follow up test well. Fortunate for me years later when I was able to lease the area and drill a test well.
The important thing here was the landowners involved. Parts of deep east Texas are poor as sin. I went to buy Mr. Dillon’s oil & gas lease myself and I found a very nice elderly man and his wife in absolute poverty. They lived in a small shack on 20 aces at the end of a six mile road into the pine forest. They had no electricity, a hand pump water well, no running water or plumbing – only an outhouse John, a battery radio, a garden, no car, a mule for plowing his garden which he also rode to the store six miles away for groceries. He received a small army disability check. They lived year round off of deer and wild hog meat and other game in the adjoining lumber company forest.
He was happy to get the lease bonus money I was paying and his only concern was for me to try and make him an oil well. My proposed location on my map fell too close to his garden so I moved it enough not to interfear with his beans and squash. We indeed made a nice well and he began getting a monthy check for around $8000. I am sure he had never had more than $500 at anytime in his life. We needed electric power for our pumping units so we got the REA to run a line to our wells and his small house. He bought his first refregirator, and electric water pump, plumbing, a pickup truck, a TV and remodeled his house. Finding oil in that particular situation was a god send as I prayed harder for that well to produce than any I ever drilled.
Go on pure guts when information is not available.
Sometimes one finds oil by acting on less information than others would even consider doing. After all a geologist is nothing more than a detective,
gathering bits of information and piecing them together to see if they make sense. I view the game much like a jigsaw puzzle. The geologist that can recognize the picture with the least number of pieces wins. Sometimes it take deductive thinking and guts rather than scientific facts!
One day I got a call from a very rich oilman in Dallas that I knew. He wanted to know anything I knew about Sanchez oil Company, a small south Texas oil company that had been trying to lease an 80 acre tract he owned in Polk County. He had called me because he knew I worked that county and would know what was going on and would give him free and truthful information. Yes, I knew Sanchez had a drilling rig on location about 2000 feet SE of the tract Wirt was referring to. I had gotten a call a couple of days before from a friend who saw the rig being trucked in. (about ten truckloads). The drilling permit had not yet been published in the daily drilling reports so few knew about it.
Wirt and I were both surprised that they were drilling a wildcat well with his lease open that close to their location. (a “wildcat” is a well not in a field or drilling to extend known production). Wirt said to keep my ear to the ground and let him know if I heard anything.
About ten days later, a friend called me that Sanchez had reached total depth, logged the well and were unloading production pipe. They have a new discovery! I called Wirt and he was surprised and in a good mood. I told him he should lease that 80 acre tract to me and I would drill him a well in sixty days and he wouldn’t have to worry or bother with it. I proposed a simple deal, he could retain 40% and I would get 60%. Being a tight hard trader type, he countered with, “Let’s make it real simple – 50-50.” I countered with, “that is a little too simple” We agreed on my offer which was already very good for him. The verbal deal was done in five minutes with papers to follow in the mail. Now that was quick and simple!
Stop! Think about what I had just done! Insane? Maybe! True the Sanchez had not even been completed and tested – I did not have a log or any geologic or new seismic information on the Sanchez well. What the hell did I have or know? Very little but what I did know was good enough
for me to commit to drill a $100,000 well, some would say on guts instead of solid information. I know of no Oil company that would do that. They couldn’t – they would be fired – they had bosses to answer to –they had committees and boards and stockholders to answer to – no way!
But I could do this and here is why: I had partially figured out the geology of the prospect that Sanchez was drilling. Old seismic I had showed a down to the coast fault about 1000 feet south of their location at 7,000 feet which was their approximate depth. They had a closure against the up- side of the fault and these tend to be rather narrow. I also knew that about eight months earlier several new 3-D seismic lines had been shot across this area. Apparently it was for Sanchez or they had access to this new better seismic that showed them the prospect.
Now a little deductive reasoning. Sanchez thought that Wirt’s 80 acre tract was productive or they would not have tried to lease it to begin with. If Sanchez looking at their seismic thought it was productive – that was good enough for me. They had leases covering most of the field as they interpreted it so they were not concerned and couldn’t wait on drilling in order to get that lease. They had a short term drilling commitment to ARCO on farmed out acreage and had to proceed.
An opportunity had been thrown in my lap and I simply acted and again got two very good oil wells. Lucky? If you say so! Opportunities come to each of us almost everyday, some big, some small. My mind is always weighing potential reward vs risk of a dry hole. The key is to be receptive to recognizing opportunity and ACT !
#8 What does a geologist do at a drilling rig?
Take a trip with me to rig 3 which is drilling an 8500′ prospect in Limestone county located about 150 miles from here. The morning 8:00 AM report says they are at 6800′, conditioning mud in the massive anhydrite (Lower Cretaceous age). This is approximately 400 feet above our first pay objective, the Rodessa formation.
It is Wed. morning and Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so I call my wife and tell her I won’t be home for Thanksgiving so plan accordingly. My car is always ready for a quick departure. The trunk has my microscope, UV light box, sample trays, set of sample screens, bucket, hard hat, food box of canned bennie weanees, pears, crackers, a cooler, extra coat, rain suit, field boots, shaving kit, extra underwear plus essentials like fishing rod, tackle box, shotgun, and hunting vest. I packed my briefcase with area well logs, work maps, etc. and hit the road.
Arrived at the rig about noon after stopping at Dots cafe near Mexia for one of her famous hamburgers and a piece of still warm buttermilk pie fresh out of the oven. Looked around the location and the rig was drilling ahead in hard lime from the way the rotary table was bouncing around with lots of noise and the smell of diesel exhaust in the air. The toolpusher’s car was gone so things were normal.
I put on my hard hat and walked across the location and climbed the twenty foot stairs to the small doghouse where the crews changed clothes. It also housed the Geolograph, a mechanical time recorder that showed the current depth, the drilling rate as it marked the time to drill each foot. Beside it was the drilling report book that contained the details of the drilling: type drill bit, hours on that bit, weight on the bit, number and size of the drill collars in the hole, mud weight, viscosity, ph etc, plus any notes from each driller of any problems or repairs. In just a few minutes I had a overall picture of the situation.
I walked out on the drill floor and shook hands with Sam the driller who had his left hand on the six foot drawworks brake as he slowly let the pipe down to maintain about 30,000 lbs weight on the bit, which showed on a large
weight scale dial. At his feet were foot levers to change gears and engage the rotary table which rotated the drill pipe at about 50 rpm.
After a little small talk about deer hunting, I asked the usual question that all geologist learn to ask drillers; Is there anything special I should know about? Being none, I walked around the catwalk to the back stairs. I glanced up to the ‘Geronamo line from the monkey board where the derrick man stands near the top of the 130 foot mast. In an emergency he can make a quick slide down the geronamo line dangling from a hand hold on a pulley. One has to be scared for his life to make that ride down.
When making a trip for a bit change; the derrick man latches and unlatches the stands of pipe with the elevators; called that because the derrickman can stand on the latch and ride up to the monkey board rather than make a long tiring ladder climb up the derrick.
I walked pass the high pressure end of the mud pump that the roughnecks called the widow maker as working around high pressures can be quite dangerous. I glanced under the rig floor and the other two floor hands were checking and tightening bolts on the blowout preventers (a hydraulic packing to keep the pipe from being blown out of the drill hole if high pressure is encountered) The derrick man was at the shale shaker (a screen that seperated the hole cutting from the drilling mud) checking the mud weight and viscosity. If the mud is too light you get a blowout – too heavy you have lost circulation and lose your mud and then have stuck drill pipe or a blow out. Can’t be too careful as it may get exciting around here later tonight.
I got a sample of drill cuttings from the shaker to look at with my microscope. I also got the accumulated sample bags of cuttings take every
10 feet for the last 1000 feet or so. Back in the trailer bunkhouse, I examined each ten feet sample , I constructed a a sample log strip with the drilling rate curve plotted on the strip. This was then correlated with the electric logs; (run by lowering a tool on a cable into the hole) from the closest wells to determine when we were in the various formations layers. The depths are compared to mean sea level to determine if a well is running high or low to other wells. We were running high and looking good; usually followed by; Send more money. As expected we were about a hundred feet high to the nearest producing gas well about 3/4 of a mile away. Looks like we will get to our first pay zone objective about midnight.
2:00 PM and time to killl until about miidnight. The choices: go bass fishing in Lake Parker or go dove hunting on Mr. Lattner’s nearby ranch. Mr. Lattner is the local magcobar mud dealer and had given me an open invitation to hunt on his 3000 acre ranch anytime I had extra time like now. My wife says I have the perfect job for an outdoor sportsman like me. By 5:00 PM I had a limit of doves picked and cleaned in the clear creek water and took them to Lattner since I had no way to cook or keep them. He invited me to stay for supper which I gladly accepted as it was many miles to another hamburger.
I was treated to T-bone steaks and all the trimming, except I had to turn down the scotch as I had a firm policy of not drinking on the job. Goes back to the pilot training of no alcohol 12 hours from the bottle to the throtle. I got back to the rig about 9:00 PM and since the drilling was on schedule, I still had a three hour wait to sweat out is the geology right? Will be make a well and lots of money or will it be my job to tell the investors that I was wrong and they have a 100% loss and write off? Much like waiting for midnight to celebrate the New Year or find out the bad news.
12:30 and we are at 7210. I tell the driller he should be getting a drilling break; (drills faster due to a soft porous zone) soon and about that time the
brake began to squeal as the pipe began to drop faster. This is what we came for, 8-10-then 12 feet and then then the drilling got hard and slow again. I told the driller to pick up and circulate bottoms up so we could get a sample of what we just drilled. It takes almost an hour to wash the cutting up from a mile and a half deep, so we wait. The driller tells his derrick man to watch the mud weight extra close as we don’t want to do a real blowout drill. First we get a few gas bubbles in the mud, the mud weight is down to 9.2 lbs per gallon from 9.9 lbs! I examine the next sample. Walla! Many tiny grains of oolitic lime from an ollitic bar, the perfect oil and gas reservoir – and it has at least some gas in it. Is it enough to produce water free and be commercial?
I decide to run a drill stem test as the surest way to know without making an expensive mistake of running pipe and find out that way. We will run electric logs when we reach T.D. (total depth) but they are not completely reliable in this formation and this area. I check my correlation very closely to determine how much rat hole we can drill below the break without any danger of getting into the next zone which will likely carry water. Also I picked a firm hard zone 11 feet above the break, that will make 33 feet of tailpipe below the packer. I tell the driller to make ten more feet, then circulate and condition hole for a DST. I drive to the nearest phone (no cell phones in olden times) First I call Halliburton who furnishes the DST tools and give them instructions. Then I call several investors and tell them the tentative good news. Oilmen enjoy being awakened at 3:00 in the morning with good news, the bad news can always wait until daylight. We should open the test tool at about 2:00 PM tomorrow, Thanksgiving day!
Got back to the rig about 4:00 AM, enough time for a little sleep in the bunkhouse before breakfast. After breakfast, went to look at another proposed well location and came back by Lake Parker and caught two yearling bass along the bank, on an old ancient jitterbug casting bait. Back to the rig about noon to a nice surprise!
We were drilling this well on the Mark and Thelma Davis farm and they were setting up card tables under the tree at the edge of the location and preparing to serve Thanksgiving dinner to all three rig crews and the rest of the gathering crowd, twenty five or so people! Now that is Texas hospitality! I bet I have had landowners serve more than a dozen bar-B-Qs but just one Thanksgiving dinner!
A DST is a mini production test to measure bottom hole pressures, flowing pressure and recover whatever type of fluid flows into the drill pipe. The packer sets between the pipe and the wall of the hole drilled to relieve the hydrostatic pressure of the mud weight. You set the packer by turning the pipe five rounds and setting about 60,000 lbs of weight to expand the packer, rotate to lock and pick up three feet to open the tool. Which the drilling crew did. The top end of the drill pipe has a gauge on it and a petcock with a rubber hose into a five gallon bucket of water. If there is any flow into the pipe, we will get bubbles of air immediately as the 3000 foot of water cushion in the pipe begin to move up. Yes! after a couple of minutes the gauge will begin to show pressure -5 – 20- 30 lbs, a 100 lbs on 10 minutes – time to close the tool and release the packer to let the mud weight hold the welll from blowing out. Indeed the test was successful! We have a very nice gas well and indeed another day to be Thankful for.
We will now drill ahead to test the Pettit formation at about 8,000′ and then test the top Travis Peak sand at about 8400. We will then run electric logs at 8500 and then run production pipe. So you see I will have several more trips back here in the next three weeks.
I have been to various drilling rigs over a 1000 times, each trip is different, some exciting or successful, some not. I have had two blowouts that
completely destroyed the rigs but thankfully no one was injured or killed. A third blowout blew all the pipe out of the hole and the gas flow bridged over before it caught fire by some miracle.
#9 The dreaded B word – Blowout!
After 50 years in the oil patch, I should have listened to my gut feeling! I didn’t like this prospect from the start but I couldn’t put my finger on it as to why? Oh there were lots of problems to overcome but there always are problems and danger and it is my job to solve and overcome them.
I had known about this prospect for forty years and had accumulated every scrap of data and information available and the bottom line was it would likely produce and could be a nice new oil field covering about 200 acres. That would be enough room for four or five 3500’ wells on forty acre spacing with a total oil reserve of a million barrels of oil. At the price then of $30 a barrel that would be a lot of money. Little did I know that soon I would be begging to be out of the trap – I didn’t want the cheese.
The truth of the matter is that I should have drilled this prospect twenty years ago when the problems would have been less. You see there had been a subdivision built on my 200 acre lease and I had to buy vacant surface lots to have a place to stand and drill. Generally farmers and ranchers are eager for you to drill because they have royalty and will get a monthly check. Not so with subdivision lot owners as the royalty is generally separated earlier. The lease required to be 200’ from a house or barn so there we were 215 feet from a house on the east and a house directly across the street, 230 feet with the other adjoining lots vacant with large pine trees. Any fool would be crazy to drill here! The risk? My part of a dry hole or maybe my part of 30 million – balanced against the fact I had only one earlier blowout out of hundreds of wells I had drilled. OK, we will be extra careful!
Remember that an old well drilled 50 years earlier about a quarter mile to the east had blown out from a non commercial shallow gas sand at 1800 feet. The prospect looks too alluring (like a baited mouse trap) Another operator has recently made a good oil well just 1000’ south of us that seemed to confirm they were in the edge of MY field. The ancient seismic data I had looked like we couldn’t miss. “Another bird nest on the ground” one of the investors commented. Another Bad omen, I thought.
We spuded the well so the die was cast. A 3500 ft. well – this won’t take long – three days and we will be at total depth and running logs. We moved in a new trailer bunkhouse so I could live with this maverick well which I did. We carefully drilled the zones around 1500 to 2000 feet, watching the mud weight carefully with a sharp eye out for gas bubbles! No problems, whew!
A day later we were at TD and we appeared to be running high to the oil producer to the south but I couldn’t see any oil stains in the sand samples I was screening out of the drill bit cuttings. We won’t know until we run the Induction electric log and maybe take sidewall core samples out of any suspicious sand zones. We conditioned the mud for logging and waited on the logging truck to arrive before starting out of the hole with the drill pipe. Schlumberger arrived just as dawn was breaking. I told the driller to start out of the hole– and be sure and keep the hole full of mud.
I returned to the trailer, kicked off my boots and stretched out on a bunk. My production superintendent James was asleep on the other bunk. Even though I had been up all night, I had a stomach ache and was too hyper to doze off so I went back to the table to review maps, etc. The table was in front of a bay window looking at the drilling rig about 100 feet away.
A loud clank! Screaming curse words over the roar of the rig diesel engines! A glance out the window and I could see mud spewing about 5 feet out of the open ended drill pipe. BLOWOUT !
Three seconds to slip my boots on, plus two more to crash out the door with James a few steps behind. A glance at the rig and out of the corner of my eye I could see the derrick man ridding down the Geronimo line to safety.
The floor hands and driller were tumbling over each other getting down the rig stairs – the mud flow was already gushing half way up the derrick. The gas would hit the surface soon – no time to close the blowout preventors as it was too late and would do no good at this point. Nothing to do but run and run everybody did as the gas hit the surface with a mighty hiss – followed by a muffled boom as a fire ball engulfed the entire rig where the crew has been just seconds ago! Everyone was safe and quite shaken. The roar of the diesel engines were now silent – replace by the roar of the fire with flames, mud, gas and water gushing over the top of the 110’ drilling rig mast. What a sight as everyone stood catching their breath. The logging truck drove off the location dragging cables. They had all been in the truck and also escaped the fire ball, thank God.
Now what? All kind of things raced through my mind. “Red Adair” when his office answers the phone, you owe him $100,000! Wait. Maybe the well will bridge itself over? But when? Call the Texas Railroad commission and report the blow. Notify the sheriffs office and highway Dept in case we need to block road traffic from sight seers. We must contain the hundreds of barrels of mud, oil and water gushing out of the well. Luckily, we had built a small levee around the location to contain any rig drip oil that could be washed away with rain water. OK, raise the levee before it breaks. More good luck, the backhoe is parked over there – James get going but don’t get too close to the flames. James wants to move the new bunkhouse trailer – I say no – we can buy a new trailer – work on raising the levee. I called for two vacuum trucks as quick as they can get here, also a D4 and D-6 cat and a crane as quick as they can get here, plus two roustabout crews, and a fire truck in case the fire spreads. Notify each homeowner not to worry we will pay for any and all damage and furnish motel and meals for any who wish to leave until the well is under control.
What else? Plenty more! It has been less than an hour and the rig mast melts and topples to the rig floor, onto the draw works and engines and mud pump. The walls of the bunkhouse are buckling over a 100 feet away! This is going to be expense! We will need another rig once we get the fire out and the wreckage cleared away. A plane flies low overhead. It’s my son bringing a couple of investors to look at the log we should have been getting in
another hour – will be quite a wait – hopefully in a month or so and a truckload of dollars!
All agony ends in due time, one way or the other. Good news, the flow dies down a little and an hour later the flow is only a small trickle. Thank God again! Now the real work and clean up starts. I never saw so many people at a rig! Policemen, firemen, equiptment drivers, reporters, Railroad commission personnel who regulate the oil industry in Texas, and contractors. All the help we need. No Red Adair present – we saved over a $100,000 there.
We cleared off the location, moved in a new rig, cleared the hole of pipe, re-conditioned the mud for logging and ran the logs. The verdict? A dryhole! Enough gas to burn a rig down but not enough to sell. No oil in the objective oil sand! An unseen and undetected small fault cut the oil migration off just south of our lease and well location. Just another very expensive dry hole. I am rather proud of the fact that no lawsuits or complaints were filed against me or the drilling contractor that was drilling the well for me. At least the lawyers weren’t winners. Before we started we had meeting with all the nearby neighbors and explained the entire situation of our coming drilling operations. I offered to pay all motel and eating expenses for anyone who wanted to leave because of the noise from the rig and promised I would clean up and pay for any damage that we caused.
That paid off big time when the well blew out because no one doubted my word on the matter as I had always treated other peoples property like I treated my own. – They were aware my nearby ranch had four wells on it and they were neat and clean and not an eye sore. Our preparation wiith a small levee around our location was golden and our expenses for motels and meals were trivial compared to other expenses.
I had a file with quite a few letters over the years from landowners where we drilled dry holes as well as producers – thanking me for the roads, cattle-guards and good operations we did on their property. Oh there were a couple of sore heads but I did my best to treat them well also. I believe I wrote about giving a Doctor investor’s money back when a well didn’t make
as much money per month as he expected. Yes that is when I stop selling to Doctors, Lawyers and Indian Chiefs.
In all my career, I was never involved in but one oil patch lawsuit and that one went to the Texas Supreme Court where we won – without costing me one dime out of pocket. An operator in Houston sued the bank where I had some escrow money deposited on a deal. The bank sided with me and offered to pay all costs related to the suit. Yes there are some small town honest bankers that will step forward to defend a client.
To be a successful geologist, one had to be able to buy and own leases covering your prospects to gain maximum security and profits. Of course if another company already owns the leases one has a couple of choices; Farm-in the acreage by making a deal with the company. But that requires giving away a large part of the profit, which sometimes is justified. Something is better than nothing particularly if one is not able to wait for the leases to expire and buy a new lease from the land or mineral owner. Note most times the landowner never owns all the minerals and sometimes he owns none which is very sad if production is found on his land.
All land has been bought and sold many times and each time the former owner tries to keep 1/2 his minerals (Leasing rights) and let 1/2 go with the land. So after a few sales the landowner may only own 1/4 or less. Generally the heir of previous owners own the most of undiscovered oil and gas fields.
Also an interesting point is most undiscovered oil fields have been leased many many times by companies who never drilled in the right spot or deep enough to find a field or simply drills a discovery well and didn’t recognize they had a discovery and walked away. I have benefited many times from these situations.
The beauty of buying Leases is one doesn’t need his own money to buy leases, use knowledge instead of your money. I have gotten many
thousands of acres of leases from land-owners for free. No, I didn’t cheat them, I made a deal that was good for us both. It requires working in an inactive area, away or ahead of the other geologists and companies who tend to follow the herd just like in everything else in life.
When I started out with no money my standard deal was if I found a prospect in an inactive area I would go to the landowner and tell him the truth – I had found a possible oil field under his land that had been there for millions of years and would be there hundreds more until someone like me drilled a well and found it. Further, I had no money to lease the land so neither me or the landowner was going to get rich unless we worked together to get a well drilled. The truth worked very well.
The solution was for the landowner to give me a free lease so I could drill the needed well and make us both rich. The landowners all want to get rich and went for this deal. If I made a well, the landowner got his royaly interest and I made money. If I was wrong, I and my investors lost money and the landowner had had a shot at getting rich. A fair deal for most.
In more active areas or with hard-bitten land owners that had to have lease bonus cash, one simply went to a money man who would furnish the lease money for part interest in the well plus getting his money back when the well deal was sold. I did this before I could afford to buy my own leases.
Early on to save money and to keep expenses down, I went out and bought the leases myself. I have spent many hot summer afternoons typing up leases in a roadside park on a manual type-writer many miles out in the countryside then sitting on a front porch negotiating the price per acre. A fun job in hindsiight.
Later when I could afford it, I hired landmen to do the leasing. Occasionally they would hit an impossible landowner who simply would not lease for unknown various reasons.
One landowner stands out. My regular landman after several tries threw up his hands. I sent a different personality landman from Houston who was very good but he also could not made a deal. I sent a third landman who
insisted he could buy a lease from anyone. He took a Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey to this woman and she wouldn’t accept the turkey or even discuss the lease terms.
OK, I had wasted a year and still no lease. I drove 200 mies to her house in the big thicket with a plan that was certain to buy the lease and It worked! Here’s how: She owned 40 acres and I was more than willing to pay the $500 per acre we had offered her and she had refused numerous times. The trick, I went to the bank and got the $20,000 in cash, $20 and $10 bills, a briefcase full of cash!
I knocked on her kitchen door and told her who I was and wanted to buy her lease. It was very cold and windy so she let me step inside and shut the door. My thumb punched the one latch holding my briefcase shut – woops! $20,000 in fresh green bills, real money spilled out and scattered over her kitcken floor!
We were both on our knees picking up the bills, with me talking a blue streak about buying her oil lease. We sat down at the kitcken table with her holding two fists full of twenty dollar bills and talked for an hour. She never let go of the bills or made a move to put the money back in my open briefcase on the table with the bills I had picked up!
The deal was done, lease signed and everybody was happy! What had been the problem? She diidn’t have a bank account and didn’t trust checks! She was too proud to tell any of the landmen. Simple cash stirs greed which is a powerful weapon used correctly.
My mother had been around the oil patch all her life so she was a little more savvy than most. She found and recognized this oil prospect and all I had to do was follow up with a couple of phone calls. It is really that easy, believe it or not.
Mary Evaline was having lunch with several of her elderly girl friends and it went something like this. Francis was just back from a trip to California and commented that a lease man had filled her phone recorder up with messages while she was gone and she was very irritated. My mother asked what he wanted?
Well he wants a lease on granddad’s old home place in Gregg county, you know where we used to have an oil well in the East Texas field before that portion of the field watered out years ago. Mom spoke up and said her son lived near there and could check it out for you to see what is going on if you want. Mom knew if some landman wanted a lease, there was likely something going on – an opportunity she immediately recognized – maybe that is why I see opportunity so often and clearly. Mon said, I will have him call you tonight, which I did after Mom explained what she knew – an abandoned lease in a depleted field area, a landman extremely anxious to get the lease, knowledge of the clean title and an inside tract to be able to buy the lease – all valuable stuff.
I pulled out my Gregg county land map, located the old 80 acre farm which had a new landowner but only 1/2 the minnerals (1/2 of the leasing rights had been retained by France’s father. I up-dated the well spots from my weekly PI report and there was what my sharp mother suspected – a new well location on the adjoining tract! A phone call to an oil scout confirmed that local Ajax oil company had just completed a new well in a deeper zone than the old production in the field.
I called my mother’s friend Frances and asked what Ajax was offering for her lease? $100 an acre and 1/6 royalty. I told her of the new well nearby and that the lease was worth $400 per acre with a larger 1/4 royalty. She asked if I wanted the lease for that as she felt this landman had tried to cheat her on the lease. We agreed we had a deal and I would mail her a lease and check the next day which she could sign before a notary and mail back too me.
Knowing Frances would not back out of our verbal deal, I called ajax oil company and told them I had the lease on the other 1/2 of the Jones tract. I
proposed we drill a joint well as soon as they sent me copies of the logs and data on their new well. No other choice for them, they agreed if they could be the operator? Agreed with papers to follow. Deal done for a cinch producer just that quick. Thanks Mom!
Bottom-line: above and in all the deals, note how easily everything is handled. No lawyer involved – we trust each other to do what we say we will do. Agreements are made verbally and then typed up, mailed and signed for the files and records. Even very big deals are handled just that easy. This bring to mind Rule#1, pay particular attention to who you do business with. Of note, in a long lifetime, in many delicate complicated deals and two blowouts, I have never been sued except the one time a bank screw up and assumed all the expenses. I have been thanked by several farmers for my efforts after drilling a dry hole on their land. What a country – good losers!
A footnote on dealing with the right people:
I put a large block of leases together and sold them to a group of six investors retaining a carried overriding royalty and as usual drew an area of interest (AOI) around the prospective area.
I had many irons in the fire so to speak and developing one prospect after another in my favorite area. I put together another sizeable lease block on a nearby prospect on this favorable trend and drew an AOI (area of interest) around the lease block and sold it to a different group of investors.
A few weeks later as we were catching up on the paper work and making assignments of the leases to the various owners – much to my horror, I discovered the two area of interest overlapped and I had sold one of the leases to both groups of investors! Now What?
Ok, no problem, it was an honest mistake. I spent the morning on the phone explaining what had happened and suggested I split the lease between the two groups so each would own half. No problem at all – everyone agreed and was happy. If I had not been dealing with the right people that could have been a sure lawsuit!
#12 Contrast how major Co. geologist find oil & gas
Now that we know how an Independent Geologist finds oil, let’s see how the Geologist that works for a major company does. It is a different world as the Big Corporations have their rules, and chain of command structure and yes company benifits to keep the slaves happy.
First I personally consider Big major companies inferior and handy-capped in the game to find oil. They move so slow in making decisions that a small Independent can run circles around them. They waste money as a given and again a small Independent can get rich from the crumbs the big boys scrape off the table as too small to bother with.
Technically and schooling wise the majors have the best available but here is the real problem. There is little incentive for an individual to find oil and gas and that is quite involved.
Let’s follow a bright young geologist just out of school eager to find oil. First we go through the company training program. Our first trip to a drilling rig which is terrible, freezing rain and lots of mud as we stand and watch an Independent geologist sample and describe a well core that is packaged up and sent to the lab for analysis where the company geologist will examine the core when he gets time next week. You see this is a wildcat well being drilled by an Independent where the major has participated with cash support because they have adjacent large land holdings. The Independent takes the risk and the Major profits if a discovery is made.
Next our major Company geologist get introduced to his supervisor who reports to a committee, who reports to the District Geologist who is a few steps below God in the chain of command. One has the same chance of working up to District Geologist and a corner office as your local alderman has of working his way up to President. It can be done over a lifetime if enough brown nosing is done.
No one gets any interest in any discovery no matter how big or grand. Maybe a small raise if one is almost due anyway. Where is the incentive? Just being part of the team! After all – no one finds oil or gas or get credit
for a discovery, only the company. But we get all kinds of benefits! Yes of course. But it can barely keep up with inflation – there is no pot of gold or reward unless you value a company team pin.
Major companies have their Secure map rooms that have the past interpretations of the District Geologist and the ones before him. These are much like sacred scrolls and you had better have a good reason to question if they are really right or just a classic map that some past committee approved. Young geologist better not rock the boat or ask critical questions.
Now our young geologist has a terrific contrarian idea and comes up with a very plausible prospect and submits it to his supervisor. The supervisor submits it to the next monthly committee meeting. The committee reluctantly submits it to the Diistrict Geologist who has a known bias against this type of stratigraphic prospect. He turns it down saying the reward to risk is too low and there is no room in the budget for it anyway but bring it up again next year.
A major company geologist has to sell his idea to his boss, no matter the bias, where an Independent can sell to the whole world. I have told of showing a deal to 52 companies before finding a buyer – and the prospect was a good discovery – so good management can be wrong and fail to recognize what will produce and what won’t.
Another problem our company geologist faces is finally getting one of his ideas approved but now Seismic has to to shot to confirm the prospect. The seismic is approved on the budget and finally confirms the idea and prospect. Now the leases must be bought. At last the well cost is approved in the budget and the well can be drilled. This can take years. Along the way lots of pitfalls – the leases have already been bought by an independent (my favorite story below) or the leases expire before the well is put in the budget or the company is bought and the whole prospect is shelved because it no longer has a sponsor (a Daddy). Note my Mobile deal below.
All company geologists get stale and bored after they are not rewarded for their ideas and stop bucking the politics of moving up the ladder and simply
stop rocking the boat with contrarian ideas and prospects. I know many many company Geologist that can not honestly say they ever found a drop of oil or cubic foot of natural gas. But they did one hellva load of paper work and reports although most could not make a decision to go to the rest room without thinking about company policy and regulations. They couldn’t even accept a Thanksgivings Turkey or small box of fruit for Christmas. What a damn-regulated-life! No making two years wages in 24 hours, or finding a fortune on a dove hunt, no hope of finding the mother lode, no making a poor veteran wealthy, No betting on gut feelings, no euphoria for getting an impossible deal together. None of the above for Major Company Geologists. The biggest drawback is that a geologistworking for a Major doesn’t even get good training to become an Independent Geologist.
I had great relations with Exxon, Mobile, Superior, Atlantic Richfield, Shell, and all the big Independents for one simplle reason. I had a reputation that I was completely honest and would do what I said I would do. I had credibility and still do. Majors almost never buy into deals with independents but Exxon and Mobile before they merged both bought deals from me. why? because I had deals that had reward to risk ratios and potential reserve calculations to fit their company criteria. Think Big. There is very little competition in that arena. No the majors are not competition; they put their pants on one leg at a time like me.
A partner who once worked for Atlantic Richfield said they didn’t find oil fields – they oozed over them, meaning they were slow and used their money and power to acquire them.
Once Exxon farmed out 480 acre to me when they knew all of it was productive. I’m sure that at least fifty independents had tried to get that farmout. Why me? Maybe it was just luck, maybe not. It is almost impossible to explain how valuable real ideas are. We all have them but don’t recognize them or pursue them. The country needs a few good geologists. What is your son or grandson doing? Can he spell Geologist?
#13 a young stupid greedy geologist – me
All Geologist and most investors have stories of Cinches that broke them or nearly so. I was young, invincible, a charger, and yes still wet behind the ears. I found this cinch oil deal and by a miracle found a partner to buy the 1/2 interest lease in a 40 acre tract. A large wealthy Independent in Midland (Hester) owned the other half. He proposed to drill a 4000′ well and offered to buy our lease or farm-in our interest or we could participate as 1/2 partners on the well.
I had worked out the geology in this active area that had three new wells offsetting our 40 acres on three side. Those wells had a total of five different producing oil sands and the geologic data indicated all five sands could be present under our lease. This was a lead pipe cinch to find production with significant value.
My parner and I elected to participate and pay our 1/4 each of the well cost in order to have the bigger interest. What fool would sell or farmout their interest for a smaller interest with no cost or risk? Not me! Too dumb back then.
One small problem, my partner had lots of money so he had no problems. But I had no money but the bank would lend me money as soon as they saw a good well log of our new discovery as soon as we drilled it. Youth is dumb and invincible!
Well you know the rest – we drilled the well, ran the log and yep – all five sands had pinched out and we had a dryhole! But wait! There was a thin ratty Jackson sand present that was not in any of the surrounding wells. Thank you lord! It had oil in it and would make a small well but obviously didn’t contain much oil because the sand didn’t cover any area, just the small spot where we had drilled.
I’ve heard the good lord takes care of babies, drunks and stupid geologist or at least he did that time. Fortunately Hester’s geologist had an overriding
royalty and wanted to run pipe and make a producer even if the well would not pay out since he would personally make money. He called Hester in Acapulco and recommended to run pipe and I took the phone and told Hester the truth – that I didn’t like the log results and we would sell our interest for what we owed to date on the drilling. A deal was struck over the phone and I got out of that jam by the skin of my teeth with no interest or debt.
Note how simple deals are done – an agreement over the phone that involves $100,000 in todays dollars. That my friends is the beauty of the Independent oil business. – Simple trust and honesty. That is certainly not the world image of the oil business – honest J.R. Ewings? No way!
The rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say: The well made 10 barrels per day for a short time but never paid out the cost of the production pipe much less the cost of drilling! Know when to fold em and Know when to run!
I made big bets again but never more than I could pay if I was wrong.
# 14 Fields I Left Behind
No, they were not left deliberately, but circumstances, time and opportunity just ran out on drilling the discovery wells to prove or disprove they are there. It takes lots of work, lots of time or a little luck to find a major field that thousands of other oilmen have overlooked. I always viewed finding prospects like putting together a jig saw puzzle – the one who can recognize and see the correct picture first, usually with the least number of pieces – wins the prize.
Here is how I stalked this prospect and connected the dots over a lifetime and yet this monster still sits there waiting to be drilled and discovered. The story starts before I was born and my uncle was working for an Oil Company in the late 1920s. He worked on an exploration crew with a new fangled tool called a “torsion balance”.
This was the crude predecessor of the modern day gravity meter. They were good at finding Salt Domes where oil was likely to accumulate. He told me years later, when I was a teenager interested in oil, about the anomaly his crew found and exactly where it was located. It has never been drilled but Texas Oil Company (Texaco) had bought several thousand acres of mineral rights over much of the anomaly about 1930. Dot number 1
Years later soon after I got out of college as a young geologist, I contacted an elderly geophysicist in Houston who’s wife was from my home town. He was eager to help me get started in the business any way he could. I was working on my first independent deal described above and wanted to know anything he could tell me or show me in Polk County as we talked most of the day. He gave me a print of a “third Derivative Gravity Map” that showed a gravity minimum over the same survey that my uncle had told me about years earlier. The second dot!
The next few years I was busy finding oil and gas, scruffy would say, “catching em faster than I could string em.” Then one day I traded some data I had for a seismic line that happened to go across the edge of the survey where the old gravity minimum was located. It showed no uplift or signs of a salt dome, so the anomaly was something else. Dot number three was now in place.
My quick and easy story above talks about a regional Sligo reef play twenty miles east that I projected west of here to Lake Livingston. Very Interesting, the front edge of the reef came across under my gravity anomaly survey. Could it mean there was a less dense “porous” sweet spot in the reef? Dot number 4.
A few years later, a major oil company put together a large lease block looking for a Woodbine sand wedge pinch-out against the front edge of the Sligo reef. As majors sometimes do on a risky wildcat, they farmed the deal out to a group of Independents. I followed their progress closely and low and behold their well blew out as they encountered a high pressured gas sand. It was only four feet of sand and not enough to be commercial at that great depth below 15,000 feet, so the well was plugged and abandoned. The operator proposed a second well to the northeast to find thicker sand but the partners balked at the huge unexpected blowout cost and killed the deal. Wow, my gravity anomaly was not very far to the northeast. The picture was coming together! Dot number 5 was in place
I did some regional mapping which showed me the big picture. Woodbine sand was eroded from the regional Sabine uplift where the giant East Texas field is located on the west flank. As the sand washed south it was distributed westward by prevailing long shore currents and southward down the continental slope. Any break or low spot in the older Sligo reef would form a natural channel and would tend to build a mini woodbine delta – a sand dump if you will. A stratigraphy study and calculations from seismic time data indicated a potential for hundreds of feet of productive gas sand directly down-dip to the old negative gravity anomaly. The negative was really showing less dense sands and shales deposited in the channel in the denser reef material. Dot number 6.
The major company leases were beginning to expire so I put together a group of investors. The plan was to top lease and lease the available tracts over the main part of the indicated sand delta and at a structural position higher to the blowout well. Thicker sands
up-dip to a well that had proven the gas was there – doesn’t get any better than that. We could then sell the deal to a major company. All the dots are in place for a huge major discovery.
The plans of men and mice sometimes go astray. We spent $350,000 doing title work and buying leases. We ran into two key landowners who could not be dealt with. Even worse, Texaco was in a major bitter lawsuit with Pennzoil and would not participate or farmout in any way on their key acreage. Our five year leases expired as no deal could be worked out in that time frame in the 1980s. I tried again in the 1990s with a partner who had a special relationship with Texaco but even he could not work out a reasonable deal with them. I no longer buy Texaco gas as they cost me, my investors and themselves the chance of makings a bundle on a major natural gas discovery of possibly a trillion cubic ft of gas.
The story began in 1928, I finally figured it all out in 1980s and this undiscovered huge Major gas field still sits there today, left behind for some young geologist to find, work out a deal, drill and get rich.
#15 Undrilled “Mother Lode
If something can be too big to fail, this one is too big and deep to Drill. It seems I had the big dreams in my youth and knew no limits of what I could do. I pursued projects that even my mentors and experts I respected said were impractical or impossible to do. I succeeded on a number of those “mission impossible” projects but had to back off from several others.
Generally the problems I could not overcome were legal title requirements acquiring leases. I had a number of small prospects that were located under abandoned black communities that couldn’t be drilled. The heir titles that couldn’t be verified to hundreds of blacks that couldn’t be located were cost and time prohibitive. Another problem was sheer size. It is one thing to work out leases with a hundred people and three or four companies but a prospect that covered half a county – a thousand landowners – a dozen oil companies – technical challenges pushing the limits – costs that look like Obama’s bailout numbers. The prize? Fame and fortune, Possibly one of the largest gas fields in the world. No kidding.
I have never seen this mentioned in the geologic literature and have only been met with blank stares when I brought this up with associates. This is so big that it can be seen on a state map of Texas and we all know how big that is. In the late fifties, GSI, Geophysical Services Inc came out with a “give away” – promotional gravity map of the entire state of Texas roughly 36” square. There it is, plain as day, if one can think of a prospect that big. Most can’t see a field of one square mile much less a prospect that covers 300 square miles. They couldn’t see the Damascus field complex of 25 square miles either, until I showed it to them.
There is a granite uplift at Llano in central Texas. The granite outcrops in large batholiths like “Enchanted Rock” and of course granite is dense and has a positive gravity signature as opposed to salt domes having a negative gravity signature. There is a positive gravity nose that extends southeast 150 miles all the way to east central Polk County. There it becomes an oval positive, representing a basal platform or uplift. Now follow the trend lines southwest around the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the border and into Mexico a total of a thousand miles and what do you find? An oval buried platform supporting the huge “Golden Lane Field” (google it for details) The Texas platform is older and deeper than the Lower Cretaceous Age of Golden Lane field but is similar in size. Much of the area of this Polk County prospect are currently held by dozens of oil companies with production from shallower zones. No company has enough of a position to drill the 40,000 foot well required to test the prospect. The trap would be a large structural dome due to differential compaction or reef structures circling the platform
like at Golden Lane. First a very large seismic program costing millions would be necessary to confirm the trap and isolate the best well locations. It is hard to see this ever getting done under current government interference -regulations. Too big, deep and expensive to drill? Who knows the future? We are talking potential reserves worth hundreds of $billions. Yeah I know, what a dreamer!
#16 Major Company buys Promoted half interest
I hesitated to write this one as it sounds absurd, excessive, and ridiculous!
I have said before that buying interests in Oil and Gas wells and making a profit is much harder than working and finding oil and gas production and making a profit. It should be obvious why. In one word “Promotion”. A car manufacture does not sell you cars at cost; neither does a geologist, even to another geologist. The market determines the cost.
Generally individual Independent Geologists show and sell their prospects to small oil companies who raise their money by selling stock or working interest to even larger oil companies or Investment funds or institutions or venture capital groups. They in turn raise their money by selling part of their interest to even bigger richer fish or yes smaller fish who are buying shares on the stock exchanges. Each of them take a sizeable cut before the final investor get the vastly inflated final price.
Most successful oil finding geologists have a stable or waiting list of wealthy individual investors who want to buy interests and these are the only truly ground floor investors. They have to be a special breed to endure a number of dry holes in a row before finding production without crying and complaining as that will surely eliminate one’s place to buy at ground floor. That is great training for cash flow management, reward vs. risk and perseverance. It requires deep pockets in order to spread the risk in enough
prospects to get production. Unproven Geologist are easier to buy an interest from but the inexperienced have no proven record and are going to drill more than their share of dry holes getting experience.
There are many steps up the promotion selling ladder before the final buyer gets the final price tag. Let follow one I know first hand. Let’s compare my cost to that of an Exxon stock owner on one particular prospect that I sold to them. This Wilcox prospect was a classic beauty that I found one summer in the late 1980s.
I will not repeat the interesting story here (maybe later) of how Exxon came to call me up and offer to buy half interest in this Wildcat prospect that they were aware I had found. I will just give the details of the interests and the costs involved. I will add that Exxon’s geologic picture of the prospect was almost identical to mine and they were hot to get it. It was a look alike to a super field they had found a year earlier about 6 miles to the east where the wells were making 2000 barrels per day! I am sure they had a large staff of Geologist and Engineers working this area for the last year looking for this very prospect which they finally found. I would say a shade late but the truth of the matter is they bought half interest in the prospect considerable cheaper than if they had found it before I did. The numbers will prove that statement.
There was no negotiations, I simply stated a price that I would take for 1/2 interest in my 75% 1000 acre lease block, with a Wilcox test well drilled to a depth of 7500 feet, logged and plugged and abandoned if dry. If productive they would pay their ½ of all cost beyond the log. A very simple straight forward deal and offer which they accepted with a simple letter agreement with a model operating agreement attached. They mailed me a check for $375,000. They liked the deal and thought it had an excellent chance to produce as I did.
I am sure they had a couple of $million approved in their budget for this prospect and they would have spent considerable more than twice what they paid me for half interest. The reason is simply big companies waste money on everything connected with drilling wells. They have too many rules that
delay everything and cost more as they have committee meeting to decide everything. Inefficiency rules the day for major companies. There is a saying that majors ooze over oil fields as they find them slowly.
First let’s analyze their cost. I am delivering 75% net leases. The various land or mineral owners have retained varied royalty interest of 1/6, 1/5, and 1/4 so I smoothed it off to all 1/4 and kept an overriding royalty interest of about 5% which is free to me. Note that royalty is valued at about three times what a percent of Working Interest is worth because the royalty pays no part of expenses. Exxon gets 50% of 75% or 37.5% net for $375,000 (1% net = $10,000) thru the log to casing point or dry hole.
The completion cost was estimated to be about $200,000 so Exxon’s total cost of a producer will be about $13,000 per net 1 percent. Now Exxon has a lot of overhead that gets charged against their cost before the Exxon stock holders get their part of a dividend or see their stock go up because of increased production income. Part of the cost of amortizing buildings, salaries, dry holes, airplanes, and operating costs and a detailed list would be a hundred pages long. I can not give an exact figure but a conservative guess would be their stock holders get the benefit of 1/10 or less of the production income. So the bottom line related back to my well might be 1% cost $100,000 on an equivalent basis for Exxon stock owners. (probably more)
Now what were my costs on this deal? I spent a few weeks working up the geology and updating my geologic maps, cross sections etc. (I must point out however that I had spent twenty years accumulating data and knowledge of this five county area that I specialized in.) Then I paid out of pocket costs to acquire the leases on the prospect and structure the deal: I bought 1000 acres of leases including title and acquisition for $40,000. I got a turnkey bid from a drilling company to drill the well for $150,000 and $10,000 for miscellaneous. My total was approximately $200,000. It would be almost five times that today and oil was about $25 back then. Note the economics were better back then than now even with $50 oil or $100 oil.
Summary, My cost was $200,000 and Exxon was happy to pay $375,000 for half of the deal. I sold 1/2 of my retained 1/2 to my individual investors for the same rate as Exxon paid (the market price) Ground floor (1% =$10,000) another $185,000. What better way to establish the market price than by what a smart knowledgeable company like Exxon actually paid?
I can only imagine the time and cost it took Exxon’s Geologic staff to find this prospect. Collecting data, various mapping programs, examining available seismic and gravity information and then sit in numerous committee meeting explaining the Geology, possible reserve estimates, risk factors, engineering reports and all kinds of cost estimates while I was on the ground leasing the prospect. Then when Exxon management finally approved the prospect, and they were ready to send their landmen out to work out the titles and buy the leases – Whoa! They find out I have already leased the entire area over the prospect. If I had been a month later, I would have found Exxon had already leased the prospect. Timing is everything.
If the well was dry, I had a profit of $175,000 from Exxon, plus $87,500 from my individual investors. I also had a 25% working interest worth $87,500 plus 5% overriding royalty worth $150,000 – both of which would be worthless in a dry hole. I was betting $237,500 on a producer. Of coarse, I had office expenses and some helpers to pay generously.
If productive, my remaining 25% of completion would cost me $50,000 and I would have a valuable net 18.75% of the WI production plus 5% as an overriding royalty plus $300,000 cash left over. Is that excessive? It was an arms length deal that all parties were agreeable to, the marketplace price for a very exceptional classic prospect. Most geologist never find one of these classic prospects in a lifetime of trying.
What were the results when we drilled the prospect?
Bottom line: This well was a dry hole and 100% loss and charge off! Yes I got paid for my time as did dozens of employees of Exxon that were directly involved in this prospect. Sometimes the best looking prospects on paper
are dry when drilled. The producing wells have to also pay for the dry holes in order to stay in business so the producers have to be quite profitable when they are finally found. Few investors can stand the risk of repeated 100% loses. That is why the little guy who buys stock in a company has to pay such a huge mark-up compared to ground floor prices which are themselves high as well as risky.
I know all this must sounds absurd and even some people are probably enraged because it surely must be excessive and explains why gasoline prices are so high. It is simply basis supply and demand market place. Good prospects that have a good chance to produce are hard to find. There are thousands of oil companies and even more geologists on their payrolls looking everyday to find a good oil or gas prospect. They can’t find near enough so they occasionally buy one from me and the hundreds of other Independent geologists. The market demand and reputation and expertise of a particular geologist determines the price along with the potential reward vs risk.
A word of defense for the oil business. If this is so great for oil companies why is everyone not investing in energy stocks? Why are your son and daughter not studying to be an Independent Geologists? Here is why! Most Geologist work on a salary and mostly shuffle paper and never find a drop of oil in their career and certainly never earn or own an interest in a well, only a few shares of their company stock are given to key employees after many years. Even among the so called Independents, only about 10% find enough oil and gas to not be struggling their entire career. Not near as easy as I make it look or sound, but then I make myself lucky by what I know and do.
17 Why do just a few Geologists find most of the oil and gas?
A whole valuable book can be written on why so few of the geologists find most of the oil and gas.
Why do a very few geologist find most of the oil, gas, gold or whatever? I have spent years discussing and analyzing this fact with knowledgeable oil
people and few have a clue. They mention education, training, right connections, work ethics, access to data, even luck but those are not the right answers. I know geologists with all those qualities who have found nothing over a lifetime of hard work. In our East Texas community, our phone book normally list about 200 Geologists/oilmen and about 10 of these generate 90% of the new oil and gas prospects. So what is it? Is it some ability to connect the dots and see things with an open mind without the bias of past training or experience that blinds them? I always liked the description of being a detective looking for clues or putting together a jigsaw puzzle and seeing the “big picture” with the least number of pieces in place.
So what is it? How does one recognize and hire oil-finders? A friend of mine, the number two guy at one of the biggest drilling companies, hired five young geologists to find and feed deals to their 105 drilling rigs. A few months later he invited me to lunch and wanted my evaluation of his new geologists that I had been working with on new deals etc. I told him Mr. A was going to make a good company geologist – he would follow directions, work hard and be loyal to the company but he would not find much oil because he could not commit himself to the chance of being wrong. Mr. B was a young charger that would find lots of oil but he wouldn’t work for you very long. Because he was a greedy independent aggressive thinker and would have to become the boss or go independent on this own sooner or later. Two years later he went on his own and has become one of the most successful oil finders in East Texas. My wife gets some really nice checks from her investments with him. I encourage her to learn by doing as that is the best way to learn anything.
Mr. C was a very good researcher, report writer and well sitter but had no understanding of rewards vs risks and seemed to think too cautiously, just couldn’t see past the risk of losing company money. Later he quit and went to work for the Post Office where he made a fine postmaster. Mr. D and Mr. E, I had no comments.
OK, is that it? One needs to be a greedy independent aggressive thinker? No it is more than that but that is a good starting place. I learned early on that one of the most valuable things oil finders have to have – the ability to be wrong and try again. Much as a good golfer bogies a hole and birdies the next one.
A short sidebar story — I was very young and had a very good, low risk prospect and I sold interests to several rich old oilmen. I expected it to produce and was very down when it turned out dry. After being up all night, I drove in and delivered the logs and bad news to my investors. I was listing all the reasons for the well being dry when I really got chewed out by a wise old gentleman. “Stop whining and apologizing for a dry hole!” He said with force! “We are big boys and have been in dry holes before – go find another prospect like that one and we will try again – go get some sleep”
Now that was more important than you may think. Why? That was a good prospect and many good prospects are dry holes. One can’t have guilt for drilling a good prospect that turns out dry. Disappointment yes but guilt no! High risk deals are expected to be dry and are a pleasant surprise when they produce. My rich investors viewed their money lost as petty cash charge-offs and that also is important – never let an investor buy too large an interest so he does not feels hurt by a dry hole.
This is the answer and I may not be getting this point across: How does being a greedy, independent aggressive guilt free thinker make a geologist an oil finder? Finding oil is all about having the proper mindset based on honesty. Honesty to not be bias, to have an open mind, to consider “black swans”, honesty to trust one’s own judgment and act, honesty to assign the proper reward to risk ratio, honesty to not drill the lesser prospects that will make wells but no profit for investors. A Geologist finds more oil and gas by drilling more wells on good prospects on good trends in oil country. That simple!
Every word a geologist utters must be credible. Here is why: Professor Leverson said, “You find oil by drilling holes in the ground and a geologist’s job is to give people good excuses to drill a hole in
the ground.” To drill all these needed wells one needs credibility that he is 100% honest. Honesty and credibility are the most important single factors of all. It takes years to establish them and yet they can be destroyed in a careless instant.
Best illustrated by another short story. There was a wealthy oilman in Dallas, (Mr. X) who was buying lots of prospects so I submitted him a good prospect. I was treated very poorly by his staff and they sent a form letter several weeks later rejecting the deal. Being determined to sell them a deal, I submitted several additional deals with the same results. One day, I was showing a new prospect to a local pipe salesman who was in my office to sell me some well casing. He said he was going to Dallas tomorrow to see his brother in law (Mr. X) and I must go with him and show Mr. X this prospect. I was surprised as I didn’t know of the relationship.
We went to Dallas and I was introduced as Nate’s trusted good friend and I was treated like royalty no less when I went through the deal presentation. They took 1/8 of the deal and it produced. From then on they took 1/8 of everything that I submitted to them. The wonderful power of credibility.
The original question and proper answer applies well beyond just finding oil and gas: Why do a very few geologists find most of the oil, gas, gold or whatever? Now we have “a greedy independent aggressive honest thinker with judgment, determination, integrity, patience and want-to plus credibility! You know that is a pretty good guy to try and be because he will surely find his fair share of whatever he is looking for.
#18 How to Buy at ground floor level
I have discussed at length of how geologist find oil and gas and make money. Maybe of more interest will be how geologist buy at ground level.
I have said before that buying interest in Oil and Gas wells and making a profit is much harder than working and finding oil and gas production and making a profit.
It should be obvious why. In one word Promotion. A car manufacture does not sell you cars at costs, neither does a geologist, even to another geologist. Once a geologist is making enough to comfortably live on, he has to invest his extra income. Since oil finding geologists know of little else they prefer to invest in their own deals and with some other geologist they trust.
Since even the best deal is likely to be a dry hole it is best to diversify and have interest in many prospects rather than a very big interest in the few a geologist can find in a lifetime. The secrete of buying into an oil or gas deal is not to try and pick out the ones that look the best or the ones you think have the best chance. Why because no one can know as much about a prospect as he who originated it. Keeping in mind that some geologist simply never find production even when drilling prospects that look reasonable and sound.
Therefore the best way is to pick the best geologist with the best track record and not the individual prospects. A good geologist has no trouble selling deals once his credibility is established. He in fact has a waiting list, as I did, and picks the investors he wants. Usually no doctors, lawyers or Indian Chiefs as they are generally poor losers and can cause a geologist grief.
Surprisingly most production is found by a small group of geologist in each area. Generally a geologist becomes a so called expert in a certain group of counties or a specific geologic formation. All geologists will venture almost anywhere always looking for greener pastures so to speak, unless they are catching em faster than they can string em. Are you listening Scruffy?
One of my favorites was a young geologist in Houston who did nothing but re-enter abandoned dry holes and completed the wells in zones that the original driller and geologist had over looked or declared to be non-
commercial and plugged the well. Ken is an absolute genius at log analysis and calculations to determine if a well would produce. I bought into several of his deals and most of them made profitable wells. Incredibility he re-entered an old well that two other companies had already re-entered and tried to complete but failed. His was the fourth attempt and he perforated a zone that the others had ignored and it made 150 barrels of pipeline oil per day! He did this on another well that proved so good, he had to drill three other new wells to develop the field.
Another young geologist went to work for a local drilling company when they hired three new geologists back in the 1980 oil boom. I showed his company a deal and this new geologist, John, immediately grasp the critical weakness and strengths of the prospect. Within a month, I made a prediction to my close friends that John was going to be a successful Independent someday as he was too bright and smart to work for someone else.
Three years later John quit and hung out his shingle. He quickly found several producers and invited me into one of his prospects. The first one was dry but the second one made a nice well followed by another. I still get nice checks from those wells 21 years later.
A young Independent Petroleum Engineer that I knew specialized in calculating reserves for various companies so they could get bank loans or have data to market properties as they declined to levels that the majors were no longer making a profit.
Ivan called one afternoon and said he had a deal that he wanted me in as it was sure to make money. He explained it to me over the phone and said a one – eights interest would cost $20,000 and at worst I would get that back as my part of the salvage cost. I knew Ivan had a fine reputation, was as honest as they come, so I took the interest without looking at all the data he had.
The deal was Union of Calif. Oil Company had a large lease with about a dozen old depleted wells in a large field in Freestone County. The wells were up for sale for someone to salvage the old equipment and plug the wells.
Ivan had already put in a bid and expected to be the high bidder. He needed $120,000 to cover the cost and he would have a free 1/4 cleared interest for his work and knowledge.
What did he know? The play was certainly not to make a few dollars by selling the old rusted tanks and Christmas trees, etc for enough to pay for plugging the wells and having a small profit left over. He was thinking much bigger. He had done some work for another company on the other side of this field a year earlier where they “fracted” an old well to improve the flow rate. It was a thin zone and the workover job made it into a good gas well. Later Ivan looked at the logs of other old wells in the field and they had the same formation but much thicker and none of them had ever been produced. Then he heard that Unions of Calif. was going to abandon their lease. What an incredible opportunity.
One little problem, the big deep fracture jobs cost about $200.000 each and we would need a dozen of them. The plan was to sell the deal to another big company as a quick flip for cash since these leases were already loaded with no room for additional overriding royalty.
Within six months I was presented with a check for $270,000 for my 1/8 interest. I bought at ground floor for $20,000 and sold retail.
Oh, I had my fair share of dry holes that I bought into like Buzzard Ranch. That well had to be dry with a name like that. I always tried to give my prospects romantic names or names that stirred visions of grandeur, like “Damascus”, “High Cotton”, Sleepy Hollow”, “Dollarsville” and “Bird-nest on the Ground” of all things. I also had a “goat hill” that produced.
One final thought on buying at ground floor compared to buying stock in an oil company. At ground floor the promotion is minimal. Generally only a small override and a ¼ promotion where 1/4 pays for 1/3 of the cost.
With a company like Exxon, the promotion is closer to 90% with maybe 10% of the profit divided among the stock owners. Big company overhead is too high to even calculate. Stockowners pay for everything from company picnics to $Billion dollar drill platforms, including the army of paper shufflers.
I am not picking on Exxon as they are better than most. They don’t steal money, they just waste it and throw it away.
In general when a company like Exxon drills a well, it will cost twice what I can drill the same well for. Even worse their operating expenses after they find a producer is three or four times what I can operate the same well for. Both of us get the same for the oil produced. So a producing well that they will lose money on, I can pay the royalty owners, pay Exxon 10%, pay all other expenses and still make a big profit. I in fact did this on acreage Exxon farmed out to me even though they knew it was productive. They could also see they would make 10% of the production as profit if I drilled and operated the 12 wells – where they would lose money and not make a dime if they drilled and operated them.
One hears of the people who get rich drilling oil and gas wells but there are many loses and the successful wells must pay back the investors their cost plus the cost of all their dry holes if they are to continue in business. Senator Proxmire was told this and said the solution was simple. “The companies should stop drilling all those dry holes.” As if they could – or like the dry holes were intentional. Humbug!
Bottom-line: Buying shares of an oil company can indeed make nice profits. Maybe 50% or 100% in a bull run. There is minor normal risk – so the stock goes down 10% or 20% in a correction or bear market.
Compare that to a working interest in an individual wildcat prospect. The odds are say five to one that it will be dry and the loss will be 100%! Drilling five of those and you will likely get a producer. Now say this producer pays back 10 to 1 but it has to pay for those five dry holes. Now you have a 500% profit but this will be over a number of years. This game is not for the faint of heart. Mr. Womack of Houston holds the record for the most consecutive dry holes at 80!
But now understand the miracle of being an independent Geologist and selling the prospect you have found. We won’t even count or put a value on
our time because it is like playing golf – it is fun – not real work. If we clear an 1/8 interest (12.5%) in the deal, we have no cost to recover if the well is a dry hole. So after five dry holes – we now make a well that pays ten to one of the cost of the promoted deal above. The first dollar is profit without waiting for a payout period. Magic! It is not a 500% profit, it is a 1000% plus profit even if one’s time is valued.
It is even better than that because the IRS treats the earned interest as zero if the well is a dry hole. One can earn a $million dollars worth of earned interest and not owe a dime in taxes, unless one sells part of it. One still pays production taxes, property taxes and income taxes on production of coarse.
Investing in oil and gas is difficult at best unless one is the originator of a deal doing the promotion. Promotion is not a bad word, it is simply doing the necessary work to get a well drilled and is a whole subject that I have touched on above.
Buy at ground floor from a successful, experienced geologist and diversify into at least ten wells to have a chance at success. Generally most geologists don’t want to deal in less than 1/8 or 1/16 interest so it requires deep pockets to go this route when even shallow wells now cost several hundred thousand to drill and complete. An even bigger problem is getting with a really good geologist as most have more investment money available than they can find good prospects to put the money in. This may be changing as tight money is affecting the oil business as much as other business. Investing is difficult as I have always said: “It is much easier to make money working than to make money investing. (regardless of the amounts involved)
#19 Create win, win situations and deals
A friend recently reminded me of a basic principle that I used that works in all business dealing: Joe said, “The deal should be structured so it is a win,
win situation for all involved.” There are unlimited ways to do this and sometimes that can lead to quite interesting trades and deals as follows: Times were really hard for the oil business in the fifties, sixties and early seventies so one had to adjust and figure out ways to do business in creative cheap ways. The good news was there was little competition as most had given up and the people with existing oil incomes just sat and counted their past winning.
Being the new kid in town with no money, I did not have that luxury and proceeded to find prospects. But how could I get them drilled with no money and virtually no buyers. I showed one gas well deal to fifty two companies before I found a company that would drill it if I practically gave it to them. I was convinced it would produce – and it did after all those other dummies turned it down.
I showed another big prospect to 72 companies before I finally found a big independent to “give” it to. He took it and ultimately it was dry and yes he made $750,000 profit while I made $30,000. (I discuss this in detail in a story below)
I was getting great practice finding prospects and some oil and gas but was earning very small interests because I was selling (giving) the prospects wholesale to companies who were then re-selling the deals retail in pieces to other companies. OK the answer was: I had to become the big guy selling the deal retail for the big bucks. But how does one do that when he has no money, no track record or creditable reputation and still a young Geologist wet behind the ears?
Think up a plan where everybody wins. Where they have to buy because it is too good to turn down. What do I need? A good reward vs risk drillable prospect. Gee, that was the easiest part for a geologist who could sniff out and recognize oil and gas deals without breaking a sweat. What else? I need to own the oil Leases. No problem, I knew how to have a moneyman buy the leases and get his money back and a small interest before I drilled the well. Therefore he was exposed to no risk, just the possibility of success – a true win, win situation.
What else do I need? I need a drilling contract from a drilling company to physically drill the well for me. What else? I need an Operator to shoulder the Liability of a “Black Swan” blowout, and who has an engineering staff to supervise the completion, handle equipment purchases, billing, comply with regulations and staff to operate the well when productive. What else do I need? One final thing – some retail buyers who were not skin flints or skeptical of the ability a young charger. Quite an impossible list to accomplish! Or was it?
The solution; let everyone be winners, including me. Here is the plan: I went to one person I knew who would listen to my plan with an open mine as he had made money in the oil drilling business by being conservative and essentially was a “Aces, Straights and Flushes” man. He would recognize a sure thing when I presented it to him – and he did and said “OK, it’s a deal” with a firm handshake.
What had I told him? “I have a good low risk prospect that will likely produce a five or ten return and I want one of your drilling rigs to drill it for me. I want you to buy a one eights interest which your profit on the drilling contract will pay for. In addition I will give you another one eights interest free (with emphasis) for being the operator. Of course you will make a profit operating the well each month for the life of the well which should be about ten years. I will only charge a modest 3% overriding royalty plus a geologic fee of $30,000 which will include all well sitting geologic supervision and well log interpretations. So far so good as he could see – so far this has cost him nothing and put one of his idle drilling rigs to work, plus this would give him a huge profit if I was right and the well was productive.” What else?
“I will sell the deal to substantial partners who will be subject to your approval since you are going to be the operator. Should you have any particular people that you prefer as partners, I will give them first call on half interest. I will sell the deal on a cost basic of 1/4 interest pays for 1/3 of the cost. That will clear your free 1/8 interest and a 1/8 interest for me. My plan and presentation worked.
Now the easy part, selling the rest of the deal. I thought maybe Chris would recommend that I show the deal to some of his friends but no, he was using this as a test for me – could I really sell this deep expensive deal? We’ll see. I had a selling idea that I had been toying with and waiting for the right opportunity. This was it. I was raised up in East Texas where timber, saw mills and paper plants were almost as big as oil and gas and I was aware of their energy needs. I had noticed a large timber company, we will call LA, was making money, expanding, and had just completed a new office building in Houston. They didn’t know it yet but they needed a call on a future natural gas source and I was the guy who was going to sell it to them so they would also be winners in the coming gas shortage that I could see coming.
I walked in cold without an appointment and asked to see the regional manager! Apparently few had found LA yet in their new building and the manager was new in town, having just moved there from Louisiana where he had learned about the oil business from some of his personal friends. He and I hit it off immediately as we talked hunting and fishing and finally when we got around to business, we were on the same page. He confided that he had recently written a report that said: ”Should a future energy shortage develop LA would be vulnerable”. My selling kicker was this gas prospect was near one of their major plants and they could take their part of any gas found “in kind” if they wanted it. It was an easy sale of a quarter interest, a win – win for both of us.
That was so easy, I realized I was on to something special. I asked myself, “Who else uses lots of natural gas and needs their own gas source?” Wala! Alcoa Aluminum Company of America was the biggest user I could think of. Intimidated by bigness? Not me, I called their Texas headquarters at Point Comfort, Texas and finally got to talk to a Vice President. He said they had never bought into any energy ventures but were currently opening an office in Houston with two energy consultants they had retained. He gave me their telephone number and said to contact them. I was in luck big time.
Bill and Tim, the geologist and petroleum engineer consultants, were still moving in furniture in their new office when I called for an appointment.
There is nothing like being first in line with an introduction from the boss. Indeed Two days later I sold ALCOA a quarter interest, their first ever Energy deal, including a call on their part of any gas found. When I told Chris that that I had sold all but a one eight interest in less than a week, he was impressed, I had passed the test. In fact he said he had a friend in California that he would like me to show the last one-eights interest to. The next day his exploration manager and I were on a 747, first class, to Los Angeles where we checked into the Beverly Hilton, in Hollywood.
A limo ride out to one of the largest wineries in Ventura valley and a presentation to a big shot and his geologic consultant as a formality concluded the sale and we were on our way home. Needless to say, Mr. big was very happy as he had been let in on a “inside deal” by his friend from Texas, another win, win as the well did indeed produce and everyone made lots of money on a low risk gas deal. It didn’t end there. I now had the long sought credibility and customers who would buy into other deals as they developed. A long term, win, win for everyone.
As a side bar: This reminds me of the classic story of How Rob McEwen developed a nothing little Goldcorp shell company into a world class company. Few know or remember the story. He bought the little company that had a pile of old data that showed little gold on their property and made little sense so he did a remarkable thing. He put the data on the internet and offered a large $100,000 prizes to the best three interpretations and plans anyone could offer. Hundreds of geologists and engineers around the world burned the midnight oil and spent weekends analyzing the data and found where the gold was on the Goldcorp property. Another great classic win, win for everyone involved. Amen.
As a footnote: I would like to explain a little of how easy it was to find this 11,000 foot deep low risk prospect that big companies would buy into and make four Billion cubic feet of natural gas from one well. Bottom-line: it was a simple graph from an adjoining well of pressure decline plotted against cumulative production or in this case against time. The data was from public monthly records at the RRC. There was not a decline, in fact the flowing
pressure was rising after a year of production. Impossible? Yes but here is why and why no one but me picked up on it. Another “Bird-nest on the ground” for the taking.
I was driving back to East Texas from Houston and stopped by a new field discovery well that Independent George Mitchell had recently completed. The drilling rig was still on location but there was nobody there except a gauger and a night watchman for the drilling company. They were flaring the gas over the slush pit and it appeared to be flowing about a half million cubic feet of gas per day. The flowing tubing pressure was about 800 psi and the gauger said the sand was very tight (low permeability) and the well was still cleaning up which ment that some drilling mud and water was still coming out of the Woodbine sand which was about 10,600’ deep at this location. Not a great well but a keeper that would eventually payout. I wished them well and told them about a big Buck I had seen back around the bend in the dirt road.
About once a month when I was in the area on other business I would go by the well and read the pressure on the well gauge and update my pressure graph to see how it was doing. Meanwhile Mitchell drilled several other wells in the field to the east, west and south. Obviously they had concluded it did not extend farther north in the up-dip direction where the sand pinched out against the underlying Buda-Edwards reef. Interesting! After another six months it became even more interesting, the pressure was still 800# but the well was producing about a million cubic feet of gas per day according to Texas RRC production reports. A month later I got a report showing the well pressure was still 800 psi but was flowing two million cubic feet per day. I asked an oil business friend to stop by the well and see what is going on. He reported back that this gas well was no good – that it was obviously making water with the gas because the flow-line was very hot instead of being frozen with frost and ice as normal gas well experience. Something is not right here, I thought.
I investigated further and found the truth. The well had an adjustable choke and had been gradually opened more and more by the gauger to maintain 800psi as the well flowed greater amounts of gas as it continued to clean
itself of drilling mud damage. Since there was no choke with the well flowing wide open there was no ice on the flow line. The line was hot because the well was making a large amount of condensate not water. This well was a cash race horse.
I got very interested and traded for three seismic lines that showed the front edge of the reef where the sand pinch out would be. There was a close 160 acre tract to the north that Mitchell had not put in this closest gas unit and had-expired! A careful look the seismic data convinced me that a gas well could be made on this 160 acre tract at the very edge of the underlying sand pinch out. Mitchell’s geologists had screwed up and left room for someone to get a straw into their new gas field. The oil patch is governed by the “rule of capture” and the gas belongs to the well that the gas comes out of. Oil and gas always move up-dip if there is a water drive so the most up-dip well will last the longest and recover the most gas or oil. Where there is no water drive, the gas pressure simply blows down like the pressure in a tank. The best location in the field was undrilled and begging for someone to notice the opportunity and be a winner. I did.
A well location on the 160 acre tract will have sand with gas and is a near cinch to produce a large amount of gas. No time to waste, I send an ole high school friend and hunting companion to buy the lease as my moneyman. His dad had been a banker and he could easily afford the $5000 it was going to take to buy a short term lease on the 160 acre tract. My friend got his money back and a monthly check for about $5000 for years. Another win, win as I got the lease to make the above deal possible. Very simple geology, a simple plan and simply acting to get it done. Also note the disgruntled landowner also won by leasing his land, getting a productive well drilled and a big monthly check for many years.
Another win, win, win. Just as it should be. Also don’t forget, every tax payer in the county were winners along with the Leggett school district due to the huge property taxes that were paid on this gas production. The winner were almost endless with one loser – Mitchell and associates who had our lease and let it expire without drilling it themselves.
#20 A simple Prayer for a Dry Hole
Nothing exciting here, just a study in human nature and how a flying geologist takes a shortcut to the rig to do a few minutes work.
This October morning started with a morning report that the No 1 Johnson well was at total depth of 5500 feet and conditioning the hole to run logs. They would need to make a wiper trip then condition the hole for several hours, trip the pipe out of the hole and run logs and take sidewall cores. All that would take most of the day. No need to go to the office as nothing else is pressing. OK, I’ll take my Labrador and go dove hunting before driving to the rig, a couple of hours away
I had a great dove hunting lease about 200 miles west so I decided to fly there in my Piper Super Cub, land in a pasture and shoot a few doves, return home and drive to the rig. This was a well I had bought an interest in from my friend John so I hadn’t been to the well location before now. My Geologist friend, was the operator and he had taken care of everything to date. All I had done was look at his maps and data and write him a check for an interest in his prospect and well.
I told my wife that Rebel and I were going dove hunting at the Brownswood lease and would be back about 4:00 PM. I expected to then drive to the well and be back about midnight. I went out the back door past our horse barn and rolled the Cub out of it’s hanger. After a ground check and loading my 410 Winchester and stuff in the plane, Rebel jumped in and bedded down on the back seat as usual. A short takeoff roll across the knee high coastal hay patch we were airborne and on our way. After a two hour flight, a three point landing in the pasture beside the cattle pond, we talked to Jim Langford the rancher as he had seen us land. The dove hunting was excellent and Rebel had soon retreaved a limit and I picked and then dressed and cleaned them in the creek to go in my small ice chest.
Flying back home on the two hour flight, I decided to detour by the rig and see how they were progressing. I circled low over the rig and was surprised that they already had the log out as they were loading a sidewall core gun on the pipe rack runway. Boy I was running way late and was going to miss the show and possible delay the evaluation of – did we have a well or dry hole?
Well I saw the obvious solution. There was a small coastal hay patch by the rig road only 200 yards from the rig. I looked it over carefully on a couple of low circles. I couldn’t land on the dirt rig road because it was along the edge of the hay patch with the trees over hanging parts of the road. Should I land in the hay patch without prior permission from the owner? Well no but this was rather an emergency of small sorts. In the past I have landed in many pastures without permission but the landowner had always waved from a tractor or standing near a barn or on a porch etc. I even have a message tube with a long streamer to drop messages to people on the ground. It is also easy enough to cut the engine to idle and yell from a fifty foot glide over someone on the ground. But none of that will work here. Remember there were no cell phones back in those days.
Hell! I need to land – so here goes, although I had apprehensions and a bad gut feeling on this one. Perfect landing next to the road with a short 200 foot rollout in the thick coastal. Well I hadn’t even gotten out of the plane when I saw a cloud of dust coming down the rig dirt road at 60mph. This looks like trouble coming! Yep.
I smiled and stuck out my hand to introduce myself to no avail. The streaming curse words were unspeakable and I have never seen a man as angry and belligerent as this dude. You would have thought I had raped his daughter and burned his barn! The rant went on and on – I couldn’t get a word in edgewise except a hundred “I’m Sorry” – “I apologize” – “I would have never landed if I thought you would be upset” and on and on. He insisted I had ruined his hay crop by my two 200 foot tire tracts. The grass was already straightening up in the light breeze – but no matter – I was a common criminal, a trespasser on his property. I was wanting a friendly
“Farmboy” about now, not this arrogant bastard. He wanted to know how I would like it if he came to my house and drove his pickup back and forth across my front yard? I suppose I had J.R. Ewing written across my forehead! I am surely some evil SOB.!
While listening, I was doing a little character study and I really didn’t like this guy. I suspected he was a retired hangman or executioner. Yes, at this point I found myself saying a little prayer “Dear God, please do me a favor and let this well be a dry hole, as I couldn’t bear making this jerk rich! Amen”
To finally end this weird oil story, my prayers were answered yet again – Sorry John. The well was dry and a nice tax charge-off. I never landed again without permission – except once when I had engine trouble and had no choice. I did have a balloon land without permission on my ranch but I welcomed him with open arms as it was getting dark and frankly he had run out of options to avoid disaster.
#21 A personal Flying adventure
About flying and not about oil or Geologists for a change.
Yes Geologists that work seven days a week and sometimes all night do take an occasional vacation. It was early spring in the late 80s and time to fly to the yearly “Sun and Fun Bash” in Lakeland, Florida. This is jokingly referred to by pilots – “Spring Training” for the annual fly-in at Oshkosh, Wis. every August. That is like going to Meca for pilots – there will be 14,000 planes there with 200,000 spectators for the weekend air-show – quite a big-time deal for people who love airplanes from Jennies to Jets.
To talk about flying, one has to mention safety and accidents. Now a Super Cub is a very safe airplane as it will fly just fast enough to barely kill you. It cruses at 115 mph, stalls at 42 mph fully loaded. Lands and takes off in 600 feet or shorter if lightly loaded or with a head-wind. A very stable
dependable airplane. Accidents generally don’t just happen – they are what one finds at the end of a chain of events that lead to the actual accident. Let’s keep an eye on that chain to as we fly from Texas to Florida and back, about 1900 miles packed with a week of adventure and the unexpected. Has anyone ever read “Fate is the Hunter” by Gann? Maybe I should have!
The day before I was to leave for Lakeland an“event” happened: My remote electronic compass stopped working. I had replaced my regular compass with an electronic remote compass with the actual compass located in the wing so the steel brace bars over the instrument panel would not interfere with the magnetic compass. No problem, I could still make the trip as I had other navigation aids, a radio direction finder, a VOR navigation system, more than enough backup redundant systems and besides I would put my Geologic Brunton Compass in my pocket should I need it. Was that that a chain link “event”?
I loaded the Cub with my tent, sleeping bag, lawn chair, ice box, groceries, rain gear, extra clothing, camera, flashlight, maps, hiking boots and misc. gear. Everything but my gun and hunting dog who wanted in as she thought I was going hunting. I took off at first light as the dew was still heavy on the coastal pasture and headed southeast into the rising sun Louisiana and Lake Ponchartrain at New Orleans. Then on across Mobil Bay and landed near the beach at Gulf States airport for fuel and sandwich.
Super cubs are relatively quite so the noise does not bother people when one flies low and the cub wants to fly low along the beach when the girls are sunning! The regulation say 1000 feet altitude or 500 feet from people in rural areas. That translates into 100 feet high and 400 feet from the beach unless one cheats a little in judging distance! Still a spectacular view that gets a return wave from most of the girls. The gulf water turns green and then blue as we get to Destine Florida, and Panama City. Then across the saw-grass flats along Appalachia Bay headed to a little airport near Lake City for fuel..
By now I was seeing lots of airplanes headed for Sun N fun and when I landed at Lake City it was a flash-back in time. The old WW II fighter
training base was swarming with WWII fighter planes in the pattern, on the runways, in the parking area, at the hangers, everywhere. I did not know it but Lake City was the gathering point for 50 or so War-Birds on the way to Lakeland. As I fueled up, several of the pilots wanted to see the unusual instrumentation I had in my cub – the only cub anyone ever saw that had a stormscope weather detector with a range of about 200 miles!
These guy were something else – they insisted that I join their beer and Bar-B-Q party which I gladly did. It was soon too late for me to get to Lakeland before dark so they insisted I spend the night as they had plenty of extra motel rooms reserved and the stories and party continued late into the night. They said they would be serving breakfast for all at 7:00 AM and can you believe that everything was free – they refused to take a dime – except my 35 gallons of fuel at half price, Seems the aviation service companies were picking up all the bills. Well an overhaul of a warbird engine was $30,000 so this little gathering was petty cash to them. I came away with almost a dozen free T-shirts with their various company names on them . The next morning, taking off among fifty fighter planes warming up for their own take off, I had to be careful not to get blown over in my lightweight Super Cub. Being how I had all day to cover the 200 miles or so to Lakeland, I decided to do a little Florida sight seeing. I flew over to the west coast and admired the private houses on some of the private islands in the area. Then on down the coast and a little detour up the swanee river, then on to Tampa bay area, all at mostly 500 to 1000 feet where the view is best. I went on south past Naples to Maco island ant then east over the heart of the Everglades swamp area and took some 50 foot low level pictures of alligators that were out sunning themselves.
Later I realized that I was probably being tracked closely on radar since at that time they were having lots of trouble with drug smugglers in small aircraft flying low dropping drugs to partners in out of the way places. Boy do I have some side stories about that. I was engrossed and having fun but I finally noticed I was low on fuel and headed for a little airport on my map for some fuel. Surprise! When I got there the airport was abandoned and no fuel but a lone guy said a field about 20 miles nothwest might have some.
Was this another chain“event”? I would barely have enough fuel to get there.
I leaned the fuel mixture on the Lycoming O320 150HP as much as I dared and headed northwest. Not a good feeling being low on fuel over swampy terrain. As I neared the small airport, I announced my location and landing intentions over the unicom frequency but got not reply. I approached for a straight in landing on the single north south runway as I was not sure I had enough fuel for a full field pattern circle or even a go around should that become necessary. I was damn near out of fuel flying into the north wind. Still no radio traffic and as I crossed the runway threshold at 30 feet – surprise I saw about five parachutes 500 feet over the runway about half way down the 3000 foot runway. Now what? Safer to go ahead and make a short landing than go around as there may be more parachutes up there that I don’t see. Good choice, I stopped in 400 feet as more parachutes were landing everywhere about 300 yards in front of me alongside the runway.
Well it turns out this was a remote strip where a parachute training school was located. They announced the drop on an air to air radio frequency but not on the field unicom frequency. No harm done and I refueled and went on my merry way over Lake Okeechobee and landed in Lakeland to join about 7000 other planes and crews who were camping out in tents and under the wings of their planes.
Sun N Fun is heaven on earth for pilots. An air-show every afternoon weather permitting and great camping facilities like plenty of cleans rest rooms, hot showers, eating places, and grocery stores. Lots of educational seminars for pilots, lots of exhibits of aviation equipment and a flea market of every item one can think of. Plus thousands of airplanes to look at and endless interesting pilots to talk to.
After a few days the weather turned bad and thousands of pilots got antsy to leave after a few days of rain storms blowing down their tents. Finally one morning the weather cleared enough for some IFR, instrument pilots to leave plus the ceiling was 1200 feet and VFR, visual pilots could take off. Quickly 4000 airplanes tried to line up to take off and the controller system
was overwhelmed. VFR pilots took off as instrument pilots waited for their clearance. Anxious instrument pilots started taking off in their twins with the intention of picking up their flight plan clearance when airborne as hundreds of VFR pilots took off to fly visually under the overcast. I was among that VFR group as I was in the safest scud running plane available, a Super Cub, being the favorite of the bush pilots in Alaska who live and fly often in bad weather. Get home ictus in bad weather is indeed the leading cause of accidents – this was a chain event to accidents and I was sucked in.
At first about 15 miles north I went up to 5000 feet when I came to a wall cloud bank to see if there were any holes to get back down. After a few more miles I turned around and went back to the front of the wall cloud bank and dove down to 1000 feet and followed lots of airplanes going under the cloud overcast. Safe enough at first with good visibility and airplanes to my right and left but the situation began to deteriorate steadily and soon was down to 500 feet in light rain, not a good situation with high towers in the area. I thought of turning around but meeting planes going north in these conditions was a no go – I had already slowed down to 50 mph to see better and give more reaction time to avoid any towers that were coming into view occassionally. I needed a close by airport to get my butt safely on the ground.
The problem was I was too low for my navigation systems to work. The only good thing was there were no thunderstorms anywhere close as this was a stable weather system. I had quite a bit of low level scud running experience but that was over terrain I was familiar with and not lost looking for a landing strip. I began following a road that my trusty pocket compass said was running northwest which was the general direction I wanted to go. All roads eventually lead to a town with a name on the water tower and generally an arrow to the nearest airport. Reliable 1930 technology.
Things were now getting very serious, the ceiling was down to 400 feet and visibility was about a half mile in light rain. I noted what looked like coastal saw- grass below and a check with my trusty pocket compass said I was going west not north as the road had gradually curved west and had me headed out over the Gulf. I hadn’t noticed the road curve in the low
visibility. I made a careful 360 degreee turn keeping the road in sight and went back down the road with a more careful watch on the hand compass. Yes as the road curved I turned left at an intersection that headed more north.
The ceiling was now down to 300 feet, only a couple hundred feet above the trees – it was time to look for an emergency landing spot even if it meant damaging the plane or flipping it in the soft rain soaked ground. Better to be in a walk away accident than getting killed hitting a tower or trees if the ceiling get any lower. I slowed to 45 mph with the landing flap half extended. Prayers answered, on the left side of the road was a new sub-division being built. New graded unpaved roads and a couple of houses under construction but not a car or anyone in sight. I circled to see if there were any electric lines, then flew down the road several times to judge the ruts in the road and compared that to a small grassy area off to the side. Which would be the best choice, a muddy rutted road or a low grassy area that seemed to be covered in several inches of water?
It will be the grassy area but first I will continue up the highway a couple of miles to see if this subdivision was on the edge of a town, which it should be. My hunch was right – the edge of a town. Yahoo! There was a small airport with hangers off to my left and three tall radio towers dead ahead poking into the 300 foot cloud ceiling. I banked left and entered a down wind pattern for the north leading runway. It was none too soon as it was late afternoon and beginning to get dark. I think my Supper Cub breathed a sigh of relief of not being destroyed in a boggy field.
I taxied into a parking spot close to a hanger that had a door open and a light inside. I ran to the hanger in the rain that was now pretty heavy and came upon two ghostly figures by a wall phone. They were both white as a sheet and barely able to talk. They finally relayed their story which made mine seem tame.
The twin Barron outside is what they came in and their journey from Lakeland was similar to mine except when I was flying at 45 -50 mph, they were flying at 120 mph which gave little reaction time and little maneuvering
ability in the twin engine plane to avoid towers etc. and no chance of landing off airport and surviving. They had taken off from lakeland and expected to get an instrument clearance by radio but lost communications and navigation aids at their low altitude. They had literally stared death in the face for the last hour. I was not quite so white.
I got a ride to a motel and after a good night’s sleep and breakfast, hitched hiked back to the airport and continued on my merry way home but not without a little more adventure. I was almost to Panama City fying at about 2000 feet when I was startled by a loud noise explosion sound and the cub shock in the air turbulence – no more that twenty feet from my right and left wing tips – two Navy Jets had buzzed me at 400 mph or so. With another going over me and yet another going under me! They were having great fun and I am glad I didn’t have a rear view mirror to see them coming up behind me.
I approached Ft. Walton military Field which was named for the famed squadron commander at the Battle of Midway. His entire squadron of 16 torpedo planes were shot down as they attacked the Japanese Carriers. The Jap zeros flying air cover for the fleet dove down to a low level to destroy the torpedo planes and our dive bombers which arrived a few minutes later were free to sink three carriers. This one battle greatly affected our ability to gain air superiority and ultimately win the war. As a sidebar: my cousin Charles was killed at Guadalcanal flying a Navy Wildcat fighter.
Ft Walton has a runway very near the beach and their air control advise me to take a south heading to avoid two flights of landing jets. Roger, a south heading out over the gulf. After fifteen minutes of waiting, I had no directions to resume my own navigation and I was now about twenty five miles offshore. I called Ft Walton control and advised that I was not a very good swimmer and was I free to head back to the beach. He chuckled and said I had been fee to resume my own navigation as soon as I was clear of those jets which I never saw.
Late that afternoon I arrived back home from my relaxing vacation. Back to the easy task of finding oil and gas.
#22 Damascus Deep –a 21,000’ Wildcat
This story is of getting a monumental deal done with absolutely no money.
This story starts with a young struggling Independent Geologist with big dreams who has been told he can do “anything within reason” and simply believes he can find a great oil or gas field like he has read about and been told about from old heads sitting around dog-houses at drilling rigs. He relates to Dad Joiner, Michael Halbouty, Glen McCarthy, and Moncrief, all legions of the oil patch.
First let’s review – How does an Independent Geologist go about finding an oil or gas field? Obviously by drilling a well on a good prospect. But how does one find a good drilling prospect and if he finds a drillable prospect, how does one get the leases together and how does he sell or finance the drilling deal? How do we earn an interest when we sell the deal? How do we establish-credibility? I have answered all these questions earlier.
Now, how can we move on to bigger and better things? Again, obviously one must think (out of the Box) and if hungry enough, have the “want to” a way will be found.
I was learning – I combined my principles of using a little bit of credibility with my principle of everybody must win to make up for me having limited money to buy leases or drill shallow wells of modest cost and limited liability.
Besides it was easier and made more sense to use other people’s money. Let’s set the stage for a bigger deal:
In East Texas there are lots of lumber companies that own 90% of the land in some areas. These lumber companies historically would only deal with major companies who would do very large deals involving thousands of acres and millions of dollars so Independents even large ones were shut out. Therefore much of this land remained unexplored by minds not boxed in by major company training. That has to be good hunting grounds.
Again what do I need? I need access to explore some of this relatively unexplored lands and make a drilling deal on it without spending any money! Yes, I will be laughed out of any lumber company office – no money, hit the road Jack. But I came up with a plan, a damn good one I might add.
I was aware that a large old lumber company years ago had sold all their surface rights, their large sawmill and even their railroad system they had built to transport the logs to their mill, which included several steam engines. They retained all the minerals rights and managed the leasing of these minerals on about 200,000 acres. This CX Lumber Company was managed by Mr. CX who was the 60 year old son of the founder who build the land holding over his lifetime, 1880- 1950.
A little research showed they had leased parts of the land over the years to several major companies but very little production had been found since 1900. Just a handful of shallow wells had even been drilled. The deals were generally that a major would pay them a lease bonus of $1 to $5 an acre agree to run geophysical surveys that started with “Torsion Balance” surveys, later “gravity meters” and “seismic lines” on 10,000 acres or so and drill a well if they found anything worthwhile to drill. No production was found by these major companies.
The only production was found by a small independent that farmed in the acreage after a major drilled a so called dry hole. The production was from a shallow thin sand over looked by the major as too small and too insignificant
to bother with. That little field at 3000 feet covered about 200 acres and produced several million dollars worth of oil.
I got one of my mentors to introduce me to Mr. CX and vouch that I was honest and credible in any proposal that I made. My plan and proposal was simple: First I showed Mr. CX a simple chart that compared the total money he had received from major companies over the past 50 years compared to his royalty payments from the tiny insignificant oil field on his minerals. It was shocking, This little production had paid more that all the oil lease bonuses he had ever received. Second he had all this land with probably undrilled production that he was not getting any income from. Third I had a plan to get some wells drilled and make him a ton of money and I too would make a few dollars for my efforts. He was paying attention and listening carefully.
I proposed that I be given access to all the old seismic and exploration data that had accumulated in his files over the last fifty years and never been evaluated except in parts by different major companies. His lease deals had always required that each company give CX lumber Company a copy of all exploration data obtained from their land. I would evaluate the old data in his files and add my own data to find the best places to drill some wells.
I would get a free six month option on 33,000 acres of my choosing. I would sell a drilling deal or deals to buyers of my choice, who would have six months to commence a well to earn the right to buy a lease block or blocks of 3000 acres each after each completed well or wells. Mr. CX would get his standard ¼ royalty plus a bonus of $100 per acre for any leases selected. He had everything to gain and nothing to lose beyond tying up his acreage for six months while I worked on the data and selling deals for his and my benefit. He liked the deal and said his secretary would prepare a letter agreement per the terms we discussed. I could use one of his spare offices to work out of in Houston.
My main objective was to find one or two small shallow oil fields like the 200 acre one found on a southern portion of CX acreage. It didn’t take but a few
days until I found a magnificent surprise beyond anything I could imagine. An old Gulf Oil Company seismic line from the late 1940s showed a very deep buried structure which was deeper than anything being drilled even in the late 50s or 60s. This prospect was huge, it covered 25,000 acres, 2000 feet of structural closure – a monster. The catch? It was a very deep buried structure that would require a 21,000 foot test well! Is there enough money and technology in East Texas to do it? Sure there is and I know where!
I was fresh off my “Win, win, win story” and drilling success described above. I had credibility with one of the largest drilling companies in the United States and they had just unveiled a brand new super rig capable of drilling to 25,000 feet. I also had credibility with several deep pocket companies led by Alcoa. The bigger the deal the better they would like it. My heart sang!
I had expected to find several small shallow prospects that the majors had ignored as too small for them. Never did I expect to find a huge prospect that was too deep in past years to drill. Confidential forgotten data buried in old files that no one but me had access to. This would be a major wildcat effort with many problems and unknowns. First of all there was no stratigraphic correlation within fifty miles up dip and nothing along strike. Will there be any porous rocks uplifted to form a reservoir for any oil or gas? I was not even sure if these deep formations were lower Cretaceous or uplifted Paleozoic. No one would care what the formation was if this huge buried structural uplift has trapped oil and gas.
I built all the necessary maps and cross sections with available correlations and put together a geologic report and presentation. The adrenaline was flowing and I was almost working around the clock. Delta loved what was now my standard deal for them to be operator and use their rig with great partners like Alcoa and our group who desperately needed gas reserves for their plants, mills and now a power company had joined our exploration group. The little deals got shoved aside as we went after this wild monster prospect. The potential was huge and the risk was large but the reward to risk ratio said it had to be drilled as the only way to find this field or condemn it as non productive.
The deepest most expensive prospect that I could dream of and yet it was the easiest to sell. This is incredible, I hadn’t spent a penny and earned a large carried interest in the entire project.
The new monster drilling rig moved in and this would take five or six months to drill and evaluate. I will spare you the details of various problems and excitement as we drilled through many formations that produced in other areas but not here as we were not deep enough yet to get into the buried structural closure. However I was watching carefully for any unexpected stratigraphic traps that wouldn’t show up on the old seismic.
Finally after drilling for two months, around 19,000 feet deep we encountered some gas shows on the mud logging unit gas detectors. The bottom hole pressures were increasing and the engineers were raising the mud weight to hold the well from blowing out. We were in hard dense lime of lower Cretaceous age and the gas was coming from hairline fractures and not a porous formation that would make a good reservoir. We slowly continued drilling deeper and deeper.
Finally we reached 21,000 feet and the well kicked hard. The engineers were able to work the pipe back up the hole a ways by using the special high pressure hy-drill and then condition the hole to run induction- electric logs as well as various sonic and density and gamma ray – neutron logs, about everything Schlumberger had available to run. The bottom hole temperature was about 500 degrees (water boils at 212 degrees) and the pressure was over 10,000 psi!
We were bottomed in salt and unable to drill any deeper. Edit: this may or may not be true and here is why. We lost circulation and the bit plugged – upon coming out of the hole we discovered we had about 30 stands of pure solid salt crystals packed into the drill pipe. This made a huge pile of salt on the rig floor that had to be shoveled off and out of the way so the crew could work. This could have been super saturated salt water instead of a solid salt formation. I don’t think the point was ever proved by samples or logs.
The logs showed no good porous formations below 18,000 feet, yet we had tremendous gas pressure and the gas was sweet with a high liquid condensate ratio. This didn’t look good but the decision was made to run production pipe and attempt to get a commercial gas flow out of the well. This was quite expensive as special high pressure pipe was required as well as a Christmas tree and fittings that would withstand pressures of over 10,000 psi. Plus special cement and special high pressure Haliburton pump trucks and special safety precautions around this high pressure. The Christmas was well over twenty feet tall and it alone cost over a 100 grand!
The well would flow a huge amount of gas with a pressure of 10,000 psi and slowly blow down to about 200psi. When shut-in the pressure would build back up and then blow down again. We had high pressure and low volume that was not commercial. We investigated the possibility of fracturing the well but the bottom hole pressure was simply too great back then. We tried acid treatments but that was ineffective at the great depths and high temperature. The “D” word – we had a Dry Hole – it was a non commercial 21,000 well that cost $3 million. Those were real dollars back then and would be twenty million or more today.
I remembered some sage advice that I had received from a mentor many years earlier, “Go home and get some sleep and then find us another prospect to drill like that one!” That friends is the way an Independent Geologist finds oil and gas.
The biggest and deepest and a good place to stop, but first I need to give more details on how a young geologist gets started and goes on his own. A little more of my experiences next
#23 Notes on how a geologist goes Independent
I was typical. Working for an Independent getting experience and I was ready to venture out on my own as circumstances gave me the final push. My Boss was moving all operations to Montana and I would have to move
away from Texas, my family and wife’s family – no way. I gave them two weeks notice and declared I was an Independent. I had little saving but I knew what the wild goose knows and had a plan. I would simple copy what I had seen other Geologists do, both young and old. I needed a Grub stake just like the early Gold prospectors and many young professional golfers obtain now days.
I wasn’t a pro golfer but I was going to secretly get a sponsor to pay my expenses and share in my coming wealth. I knew a wealthy man who I had credibility with. I made a Sunday afternoon appointment and made my sales pitch. We made a year contract and it worked out very well. I earned him interest in two wells worth twice what he advanced me in expenses plus returned all his expendures by earning enough cash fees doing well sitting for others. A great deal for us both.
This was a great deal but I was making enough money well sitting to pay all my expenses plus I was finding drillable, sellable prospects in my spare time working 15 hour days. So I really didn’t need a sponsor anymore but it had been insurance to help me get started. Each of our lives turns on certain people and events and my friend and mentor Ben was one of them.
Make no mistake, Going Independent is Serious Business!
This gets serious as this is a major life decision and everyone is not suited or cut out to be an Independent. You have to be more than an experienced knowledgeable Geologist that has found some productive prospects while working for someone else. You must have a burning desire to find oil and gas – you have to be greedy to a certain extent and set out to prove something. Failure is not an option. You have to know you can do this one way or another. It is also a must, to have a loyal understanding. adventurersome wife.
OK, but I have no money saved up, have a family, living expenses, etc. OK, but are you good at what you do? Can you find oil and gas? Can you find it before you starve to death? Do you really want to do this? OK, one way is to find a financial backer. Much like most young professional
golfers do – but you have to be really good, not just pretty good. OK, Money people will back you for your limited living and working expenses for a negoiated period. In return they will receive all income until they get their money back and then split the income 50-50. OK, If that is too tough, better stay on your salary, company healthcare plan and hope to have a company car someday and a private office as you move up-the-company-ladder. Yes it is a hard cruel world out there but rewarding to those who have guts, ability and can act. I know of several Independents who got their start this way, although few of them will admit it publicly.
Can this still be done or is it too late?
Indeed it can. I would still be actively finding Oil and Gas if I was younger and had the energy and want to – all my greed is satisfied!
Oh, the rules of the game change and one’s approach has to be modified somewhat but all the basics are still there. Greed, hidden resources waiting to be found, unlimited ways to skin a cat and many unexplored, ignored hiding places, new technology, new depth targets, and most of all the continuing need for energy as long as man is on this earth. Also there will also be men with big money looking for a chance to make the big find – and all they are willing to do is write a big check for the chance.
Opportunity is out there to be grasped by young thinking geologists. Natural gas has become so easy to find that the supply now overshadows demand for years to come with ten of thousands of well locations known that will produce natural gas. Finding small oil deposits is not very hard but finding large oil reserves is harder yet not impossible. Off-shore in great water depth is the easiest place to find a major field today but that takes a double ton of money.
I have a geologist friend that is not yet rich but has recently found a huge prospect at modest depth on-shore, a potential major oil field. He sold the deal to a wealthy oilman who is currently leasing the prospective area. It will take a year or so to lease and drill the well. Yes it is a rank wildcat that will
likely be dry for one reason or another but he could be right and become as successful as Hunt or Moncrief et al. The opportunity is still there and the potential payoff can be huge, much like finding that mother lode gold vein! Good luck to all young geologists and have fun along the way.
Well, you knew I couldn’t end this series. I keep thinking of past experiences faster than I can write about them. I wish I could write in more detail so you could smell the sweet oil, and the diesel fumes from the rig motors. Maybe even feel the heat on your face from a production test flare or feel the gut wrenching fear of a blow-out in progress. All these stores would be three or four times as long if I gave the details. I am more used to writing geologist reports that leave out flowery details. That must be why the stories are more interesting to me than you – I know the details and can smell the diesel and feel the heat from the flare on my face.
24 A Bird Nest on the Ground
“A Bird Nest on the ground” That is what my friend Clark named this prospect. He was so carried away with it that he said he would sell it for me and I could just sit back and count my money and production checks. Have you ever grabbed a Tiger by the tail and couldn’t let go because you would be eaten alive? Sit back with a glass of White Horse Scotch as that is what the participants in this saga drank.
I started to say that this story began when I was in Houston at Exxon’s new 44 story office Bldg about 1970 doing research for new prospects. Exxon was kind enough to let me have access to their scouting files in exchange for information I gave them on wells I drilled or knew about. I also suspect that somewhere in the bowels of that Building and organization was some old timer that recognized my connection to an old Geologist that made them millions back when Exxon was still a little outfit called The Humble Company. If not, maybe the Energy Gods entered my name on the Exxon approved list
of honest trustworthy geologists that were approved to do business with Exxon.
After sleeping on this, I have to be more exact and begin at the real beginning of the finding of this prospect. In the 1940s, I had the privilege of driving a famous surface geologist around several counties as he re-check notes on a life time of walking outcrops across Texas. I was just a 14 year old kid with a new hardship drivers license and I thought I was being a great help to J.W. Leggett who was my great uncle. J.W. was an eccentric old surface geologist then in his eighties and too blind to drive his old 1934 A- Model Ford Coupe which he called his “hoope”. I had access to an army jeep which would take us where he used to go in his old black hoppie and in Ford T-models before that.
J.W. was a pioneer Independent Geologist who specialized in Paleontology and did contract work for Humble Oil Company – a little company which later evolved into Exxon. His surface work in the 1920s and 30s led Humble to the Conroe Field which helped propel Humble into the really big time. J.W. Also helped the Boone Brothers find the Kittrel Field. He was a very good paleontologist and could identify most every formation by the fossil content in the drill cutting samples.
I spent the summer helping him but what I didn’t know was – he was educating me to be an Independent Geologist and was passing on priceless information and endless hours of constant lectures as we drove from daylight to dusk or spent rainy days in his office Lab or in the mud at an old steam drilling rig. Using his ancient microscope he showed me Foraminifera marker fossils in well samples that were used as core points at the top of the Cockfield – Yegua which was a prolific oil producer at Conroe and other fields.
He told and showed me how an Independent Geologist found oil prospects and how he turned that into owning interests in leases and wells. Later I simply copied what the old gentleman did. I knew the important things and how to make money in the oil patch when I was still in Junior high school. J.W. would find an anomalous geologic area and map the structure and any
faulting from surface outcrops and sometimes a few scattered shallow wells. He would then go to a group of rich friends who would put up the money to buy the leases. He would then sell a drilling deal to an oil company, retaining an interest for himself and his investor friends. That is exactly what I did after getting out of college and getting a little experience working for an Independent for a short time. Very basic and simple and I learned it one summer in junior high school.
Some of those old prospects among many that J.W. showed me was one in San Jacinto County, near Point Blank, another in Trinity County northeast of the old Kitrill field and another undrilled prospect west of Leggett. An old town named for his grandfather who started the town in the 1800s. He and a group of investor friends in 1927-28 had bought royalty under 1600 acres of the prospect intending to leave the drilling to others and just profit from monthly royalty checks. Various complicated reasons including the 1929 crash kept any well from being drilled. JW and all the original investors died. I went off to college and Shell Oil Company leased the area and drilled a deep “tite” well off the eastern edge of J.W.’s old prospect. The Shell well had shows but was a non commercial well that produced a very small amount of gas from a shallow sand around 3300 feet.
Now we go back to the 1970s with me sitting in Exxon’s office looking for the old Shell well log and records. I was checking for shallow gas production that had been over looked or ignored because of low gas prices that made them non-commercial. Now that natural gas prices had increased from $0.10 to $0.40 per MCF (reads 40 cents per thousand cubic feet) many of these small gas sands and reserves were becoming commercial targets. I was working in my favorite County, being Polk about 80 miles north of Houston. I was looking for information and a log on a ultra deep Shell Oil Company well that had been drilled “tite” (no information released). They had completed a small shallow gas well but it never made any commercial production and was abandoned.
I am always surprised and thrilled when I find an acorn when doing research like this, a really fun game! There in the well file was a copy of this secrete log and when I unfolded it – there it was! No, not the shallow gas sand
because I had started at the bottom of this fifteen thousand foot hole. A big surprise – a ten foot thick Woodbine sand that calculated to have gas in it at about 13,000 feet deep. Core analysis confirmed gas was in the sand. Sure Shell knew it was there but it was too thin and the reserves were to small to be commercial at $0.15 MCF gas but what about $0.40 MCF gas – that was three time better. Even better I was confident gas would double to $1.00 MCF in a year or two.
The records showed Shell had set a protective string of pipe at 12,000 so we would only need a 1000 foot pipe liner to test the deep sand. Records showed they had set a bridge plugs with 10 sacks of cement on top of them at 11,000 and 4,000 an perforated the shallow gas sand at 3300 feet. No production in several years and no plugging records which I thought was strange but I can get that from the State records in Austin.
Major companies do strange and crazy things sometimes. I could see their thinking here. They would complete and develop a shallow gas field, not for the gas or value but to hold the leases for possible deeper production years later. It didn’t work as the shallow gas sand fizzled out as a limited reservoir. Most majors at that time had a rule of thumb that they couldn’t pursue ten foot reservoirs below 10,000 feet – a really dumb rule.
Think about it, even a 100 foot pay zone has an edge when the 100 foot thickness goes to 10 feet and then to zero. Read it backwards: zero goes to 10 feet and then to 100 feet. That was my basic exploration rant – show me two feet or ten feet of pay and I will show you which direction to go to find a thicker sand. “Very basic Mr. Watson”.
I drove my rental car back to the airport where my Super Cub was tied down and waiting for the flight back home. It was early so I decided to fly by the old Shell well location to see if the old road to the location was still there. An hour later I was circling low looking for the old location road off the farm road west of Leggett. There, an over grown road with pine branches almost covering it from sight. Down the road a couple of miles and there is the well location clearing and quite a shock! There is a tall Christmas tree and an old
200 bbl oil tank. How could this be? It was apparent there had not been any traffic into this location in years. This is unreal and I pondered the possibilities as I flew on northward towards home – need to get there before dark as I have no lights on my grass strip back of my house and there is no full moon tonight either.
Back in my office the next day, a few phone calls solved the mystery of an abandoned well with the Christmas tree still there. It seems the landowner had put a provision in his lease that Shell must give the landowner any abandoned well for him to make an artesian water well out of. Shell wanted a legal liability release from the landowner to accept responsibility for plugging the well. The landowner delayed and refused. The lease had a provisions that Shell had 120 days to remove any equipment but that time had expired and the landowner wouldn’t let them on the property to remove the Tree, tank and separator which was worth several thousand dollars since it was all high pressure stuff. A Mexican standoff that the landowner won! Only thing, he couldn’t afford to convert the well into an artesian water well so there it sat. “A Birdnest on the Ground”
Well, I was quite busy with other prospects so I let my Ole -old friend Clark who had known and played poker with J.W. forty years earlier, sell the deal to two of his old friends. Clark was a real Pioneer himself as he was on the ground and in the middle of the discovery and development of the famous “East Texas Field” and worked with Harrison and Abercrombie on the discovery of the famous “Old Ocean Field”. I will try and write a story on Clark who was a semi-pro golfer, gambler and character in his own right. What a group – three 80 year olds drilling a prospect discovered forty years earlier with me helping them. If you have a faint pain in your stomach and smell disaster coming, you are right.
Clark, Ray and Earl had been partners and drilled wells before I was born. They were typical early oilmen – heavy gamblers, hard drinking “white horse scotch” poker players who didn’t drink before 5 o’clock but of course they said it was 5 o’clock somewhere. They were back in their youth again and I was their chaperon.
Well, everything went fairly well. The drilling rig got the old hole cleaned out and the shallow perforations squeezed off, The bridge plugs and cement drilled out and a 1000 foot pipe liner set and cemented over the target zone. Probably didn’t take more than a case of White Horse Scotch. They released the drilling rig and planned to use a completion rig to perforate and finish the job. We perforated the pipe opposite the target sand and nothing happened – no gas flow! OK, we swabbed the well down to relieve the hydrostatic head and just a tiny gas flow. OK, release the workover rig and we will ponder the situation a few days while flowing the well to let it clean up which it didn’t.
OK, we will put a little mud acid on the formation to help get the mud blockage out of the formation. Rather than waiting to get a workover rig back, it was decided to use a small mast attached to the large tall Christmas tree and use a coiled tubing truck to spot the mud acid on the perforations. Big – big mistake.
Picture the set-up because it was the critical mistake. A 10′ tall high pressure Christmas tree, with two master valves and several wing valves, one of which is fitted with a two inch adjustable choke to control the amount of flow rate. A twenty foot mast with a pulley assembly at the top to take the 10,000 feet of small flexible tubing from the truck. An acid truck and pump truck to pump the acid to the bottom of the hole once the tubing has reached bottom. Note: the bottom of the mast is held in place by the main bolts that hold the Christmas tree base flange to the Surface pipe flange. New pipe was hard to come by so a used tubing string is in the hole. Redneckokie already sees what’s coming.
After a couple of hours the tubing has been reeled off the drum on the truck over the pulley on top of the mast and finally reach bottom opposite the perforated pipe holes into the Woodbine gas sand. The acid is pumped down the tubing for an hour or so. The engineer has a counter on the pump strokes so we know when the acid reaches bottom – about now. Wow! The pressure gage on the Christmas tree immediately starts rising. Boy that acid really did the job and dissolved the blockage! The gas is flowing into the hole. We already have a 1000 lbs pressure! OK, get that coiled tubing out of the hole! Hey! Not so damn fast – that is putting too much pressure and strain on the mast and Christmas tree! We have a tiger by the tail here!
The surface pressure is rising fast, open the choke from 1/8 to 10/64 – no make-that-a-1//4! The pressure is now 4,000 lbs and gas is spewing out of the tree! Around the main flange where the mast is bolted down. Stop retrieving the tubing and tighten the flange bolts. – Open the damn choke more to relieve the pressure which is up to 5,000 lbs. OK, try coming out slowly with the rest of the coiled tubing. The pack off is leaking, open the choke to 1 inch! Keep opening the choke to keep the pressure at 4,000 lbs – above that the main flange is still leaking and could cut out the tree and we will have a full blown Blowout on our hands.
The 2 inch blowout!adjustable choke is now fully open and the pressure gage is sitting on 4,000 lbs and seems to be stabilized. Thank God, maybe we are saved! Maybe not!
I neglected to say it was now near midnight on a cold winter night, not so much as a breath of a breeze. The gas was settling like a fog on the location in the low creek bottom! No one strike a match to smoke. Don’t even start a car engine. Cut everything off quickly. One spark and this gas cloud will explode! Get everybody off the location and out on the farm road – and walk not ride or this tiger will kill us all.
An engineer poked me on the shoulder and said, “I checked the Halliburton flow chart and 4,000 lbs flowing pressure on a two inch choke is a flow rate over 10,000MCF per day. A huge gas well if we don’t get blown away! From here on, I can’t fully explain or understand. As quick as the pressure rose it was now dropping and didn’t stop – dropped to a few hundred lbs and on any choke setting would only flow about 100 MCF, a non-commercial amount.
We were all just glad to be alive and after a few weeks of flow testing the well, we sold the entire deal to another operator. He tried everything. Swabbed the well dry and never could get a commercial flow rate out of that well. Re perforated, re-acidized, tried a small frac job – spent a ton of
money. The well was eventually plugged and abandoned –again with no commercial production – a well that everyone saw flow 10,000 MCF/day ! That is more money than I can count even at today’s gas prices.
Drill northwest of this old well and discover a nice gas field? Note: a dry hole was later drilled a short distance to the south. (the wrong direction) Apparently they didn’t have a copy of J. W.’s 1927 geologic map and never walked the outcrops in the area. There are numerous gas wells on trend to the east. Of coarse Shell had old seismic and today new 3-D seismic is available if someone wants to pay for it.
For full disclosure, I own a small inherited perpetual royalty interest from 1928 (82 years ago) under this prospect if it is ever drilled. A company has leased the area and my understanding is they are currently clearing titles for a new well when the natural gas prices recover.
25 My friend Clark made a Billion dollar Mistake
I have been privileged to meet and know many oil Pioneers starting 60 years ago and I have many firsthand stories about most of them. Bunker Hunt, Abercrombie, Penrose, Halbouty, Wesley West, Cullen, Zeppa, and Lloyd et al. Clark Davis as a young man of twenty owned a thriving hardware store in a little town in Oklahoma but he was a born gambler at heart and was hearing of great wealth in new discoveries in Oklahoma and fields like Spindletop and Mexia in Texas and wanted part of the action. He sold his hardware store and along with two friends headed to Texas to make their fortune. Their timing couldn’t have been better. They arrived in Longview Texas just after the East Texas field had been discovered by Dad Joiner and his Geologist partner “Doc” Lloyd. Three wells were completed with 6,000 more wells to be drilled in the field and each would make a millionaire.
The most northerly and southerly wells were twenty five miles apart with one in the middle along the western edge of the Sabine uplift. Clark and his
two friends each pooled $8,000 each into a $24,000 partnership which was an awful lot of money in 1931. They were going to buy leases between the producing wells. This was a very good plan that would have found well over a Billion dollars of oil.
But fate intervened. Clark ran into an old friend at the hotel who was a geologist working for Sinclair Oil and Gas. This friend confided in Clark and advised him that the best Geologic minds of the day thought these were three separate new fields around the Sabine uplift and there would be dozens more of these small fields with each covering a couple of hundred acres – not the 140,000 acre field it turned out to be. This geologist friend advised Clark that the leases between the wells were too high and going for $25 an acre while the leases to the north in Upshur County and to the south in Cherokee County could be bought for $1.00 per acre. He was advised he could buy more leases and would have a better chance of some of them being productive.
So Clark took the smart insider advice and they proceeded to buy 8,000 acres at $1.00 per acre. This was considerably more leases than H.L. Hunt had at the time. It is unbelievale that Clark did not proceed and buy some leases between these wells which were making three to six thousand barrels per day and would have been in the middle of the field which would turn out to be the largest field in the world for the next 25 years.
One of Clark’s partners came in one day with a lease he had bought between the Bradford and Crim wells. Clark and the other partner said that was not in their agreed buying area and it was likely in a dry spot between the two fields. He would have to eat that lease himself. You guessed it – that was the only lease that was productive – all 8,000 acres were dry and beyond the north and south limits of the field. Clark had put all his faith in authority and being young and inexperienced, he did not spread the risk or control the greed of owning more of the cheap and none of the surer thing.
Here was the trap Clark and his partners found themselves in after they had bought 8,000 acres. By then the inside leases that they could have bought
for $25 were now $10,000 an acre and rising so they sure could not buy any of these overpriced leases now. They would just have to wait for their $1.00 per acre leases to be proven to be in the field and worth $10,000 an acre or more. It didn’t happen – a string of dry holes across the north end and across the south ends of the field condemned all of Clarks leases. A big bad gamble that he took and lost.
Over 6000 wells were completed in the East Texas Field and this huge amount of oil production drove the oil price down to $0.10 a barrel as drinking water was ten times higher at $1.00 a barrel. The Texas RRC started controlling the amount of oil a well could produce and 30 years later in the 1960s, I owned interests in wells that were only allowed to produce a small amount for six days a month – the rest of the time they were shut-in. Many oilmen went broke but you don’t hear about them. Maybe a story is due about the many oilmen who went broke.
H.L. Hunt and many others made Billions and Clark moved on to the next boom area in the Schwab area where he met up with my great uncle, J.W. Leggett and I had yet another mentor and friend, who was now wiser and more skeptical of what a geologist really knows. There is a lesson here someplace.
26 Some oilmen are Polecats
Everyone has their “Nemesis”. Batman and Robin’s was the Joker. Superman and Captain Marvel had theirs and mine was a rich Oilman named William and the son in law of a famous Houston oilman. He was from London, attended Cambridge and was as rich and arrogant as they come – A J.R. Ewing type with a smooth British accent and ice water in his veins or a slick “Jet Rink” from the movie Giant after he got stinking rich. Williams’s wife had inherited a vast oil estate that included many thousands of acres of minerals in one of my favorite counties in Texas where I liked to work. Fate had set up a lifetime struggle for me with a worthy opponent.
I first encountered Mr. William when I was a senior in college and had worked up a sellable prospect while my fraternity brothers were out partying and singing “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”. I guess this was an early sign of a workaholic who was determined to find his fair share of Black Gold. This prospect was partly under minerals owned by William and I assumed he would be happy to learn of possible oil under his land. I called for an appointment and his secretary told me his assistant, a Mr. Brian would see me in three weeks. Seemed like a long time to wait.
I showed up for the appointment about forty minutes early so as not to be late. I got off the elevator on the 27 th floor into a blank paneled foyer with one massive closed door that had no marking or name of any kind. Was I at the right place? I tried the door and it was locked. Very strange. I stood around waited, thought and wondered. I heard the lock on the door click so I opened it but no one was there, just a plush large waiting room. Obviously the door had been unlocked by remote control. Strange. Over on one wall was an opening like a bank teller window with very thick glass, bullet proof no doubt, and a small opening underneath. I heard the remote door lock click again and I sat down and waited, securely locked in. I felt as if I was being watched.
Soon a large door opened and an attractive middle aged lady said to follow her and Mr. Brian would see me. We walked across a wide hallway and I could see the office took up the whole floor of the building. She ushered me into a large plush conference room like you would see in a movie. She left, closed the door and again I heard the familiar office door lock click. I again sat and waited, staring at the door at the other end of the room. Eventually a Mr. Brian appeared and introduced himself, as Mr. Williams’s assistant.
I quickly explained that I was a geologist and had found a drillable oil prospect that extended under one of his tract. I revealed that I had already obtained Leases from several land owners and a large timber company. I offered to do whatever he preferred, he could join and participate in the drilling, lease his tract on an oil company farmout basis or contribute to a well offsetting (proving) his lease with dry hole money.
He showed some interest and wanted to see my geology and evaluate the situation. I had already shown him a land map of the situation and was reluctant to show my geology but I had little choice but to do so. I showed a pile of data, including structural map, various isopach maps, stratigraphic facies maps, logs, cross sections and scout cards. He briefly scanned my data and said they would “Do nothing” I was shocked. He pushed back his chair and said, “We really don’t care if you drill this well or not. Mrs. Jones will show you out!” He walked out the far door as I gathered up my map etc.
I sold the deal to a drilling company explaining William would ride us down by not making any kind of deal. We drilled the wildcat well and as most wildcats, it was indeed dry. Watson had gotten a free ride from me and my investors.
Several years later after gaining a little experience I earned my first interest in a gas producer as described at the first of these stories. I didn’t include the details of how Watson was again involved by owning half of the offsetting lease. This time I made the same offer but did not show Brian my geology and the results were the same. They would do nothing. We had better results this time with a nice gas well. Watson again got a free ride.
I leased the other half interest of the Watson tract which prevented an offset well from getting into our newly found gas reserves. I came up with another prospect joining this same lease a short distance to the west and offered to drill a joint well with Watson but again Brian said no, they would do nothing. My investor group drill on the offsetting tract and made a nice oil well in an undepleted Wilcox sand. Watson again got a free ride but no money or oil as we drained the reservoir and they could not drill on their half interest lease. The new kid in town was winning a few skirmishes.
When one is working in an area, one thing leads to another as one accumulates new pieces of the overall puzzle. There it sat, the old A.O. Phillips – Barnes No 1. An old dry hole but the log showed nine feet of oil on top of water. Simply perforate the top two feet and it would make 200 barrels of pipeline oil but it wouldn’t last long enough to pay out the cost of completion. Why not move updip to a higher structural location? You
guessed it – Mr. Watson owned the up-dip minerals and would do nothing. Damn there is another one! A 300 foot fault that sets up a “smaller Copeland Cr. Field”
More work and WALA – another new prospect takes shape. This one was a biggie and it was on my large Southland lease where Watson owned half and I owed half. Another Mexican standoff? No, this one is big enough and good enough that he will have to participate. It was early February when I sent a letter this time outlining what I had found and how big it was and the huge reserves it could contain. I stated I had to meet with Mr. Williams and not his assistant Mr. Brian. A week later, Watson’s Secretary called and said Watson was out of the country and would meet with me in the Fall. In the Fall? That was 8 months away! OK, I would wait!
Are you beginning to see a trend here. This area is loaded with undrilled prospects because Watson’s family has owned the minerals forever and would not make deals with other companies to drill and wouldn’t drill the prospects themselves. They didn’t need the money and preferred to do nothing which they were expert at doing.
Frankly being from East Texas Lumber country – my destiny was tied to dealing with Seven lumber companies who accumulated vast landholding in the 1800s up to the Great Depression of the 1930s. In the depression, some sold the surface as low as $1.00 per acre and retained half or all of the mineral/ oil & gas rights. The heirs of these founders were the ones I concentrated on dealing with. They had what I wanted – money and vast landholdings that covered untold and undrilled oil and gas fields. Some of the other lumber companies were bought and absorbed by the largest who surrived. I courted these people, gained their trust, made them money and became expert at dealing with them to our mutual advantage, all except Mr. Williams and their original inherited wealth also went back to a lumber company established around 1800 by the grandfather.
That September, I got another call that Watson would meet with me next Monday at 11:00 o’clock for lunch. Monday arrived and the same locked door routine but then I was ushered into a private meeting room, a corner
office overlooking downtown Houston and the room was filled with what appeared to be priceless antiques. A brass telescope or a replica on a brass tripod that could have been from a British Man of war vessel was by the window. I was getting a little different treatment this time. Could it be that my making producers on the last two prospects was having an impact?
William walked into the room and introduced himself. Up until this point I had never even been able to talk to him on the phone and all dealing were through his assistant, Mr. Brian. Watson was a tall handsome man with a slight British accent, dressed as if he was going to a state dinner. He touched his intercom and asked for Tea which arrived almost instantly. A little small talk and he began to spring suppresses! He asked how my wife was and about her champion cutting horse Mark Twist? What else did he know about me? My underwear size? He had obviously done extensive research on me, my family, and my business and probably knew the balance in my checking account – and he wanted me to know it!
He said, “Let’s go have a bit of lunch before we talk business. We walked to another part of his office and took a private elevator to The Houston Club and into a private dining room with our one table. A waiter in a white Tux coat took our order which Watson ordered for us both. “Your favorite Lobster soup and salad” he murmured! Yeah, he even knew what I generally had for lunch. It was a very uncomfortable lunch for me as he probed just how country I really was. I recalled a mentor saying, “one is not properly educated until he can intelligently discuss the British Pound Sterling.” I failed miserably at that one – I could do a little better today.
Back in his office he requested I lay out my Geology and discuss my offer. Which I did in considerable detail, with visions of my clearing 1/4 or 1/8 of the deal which would be normal.
Upon completing of my presentation the mood changed as If a light switch had-been-flipped. He pointed out that his family had owned half the minerals under this large tract for a hundred years and would certainly own them another hundred years. He pointed out that my five year lease from Southland had three and
a half years to run and then it would expire. He assured me that I would not be able to renew it. He said I had one option and only one option to make a dime out of this prospect. I could furnish him a copy of my geologic data on this prospect, assign my Southland lease to him and retain a 1/16 royalty interest. He would drill a test well to the Wilcox when he got time. “Take it or leave it.” He said I could think about it for a couple of days and call his secretary. He said Mrs. Jones would show me out and left the room as his secretary magically appeared.
I would have liked to either punched him in the nose or told him to go to Hell. However I knew what he said was true. I was also relatively certain that this prospect would produce oil and gas for the next fifty years. I wimped out and took the 1/16 overriding royalty interest. About a year later he drilled a 7500 foot Wilcox test and it had five productive zones up the hole. I was right but would only get a relatively small check for fifty years or so. I was beginning to understand the locked doors and security – there were a bunch of mad and abused people left in his wake.
No, I was not “shet” of Watson anymore than Batman got shet of the Joker.
Up until this point I had convinced myself that I was just a victim of circumstances both good and bad as Mr. Watson owned large holding of minerals in my favorite area. I rationalized that his stubbornness and need to get the best of everyone on a hard trade had just held up development and accounted for the area being such good hunting grounds for me to explore.
However this next encounter made me feel that I had been stolen from in a very underhanded way. Recall that I had been forced into giving him my maps covering the Wilcox prospect. To show geology, one must extend the maps to connect to the surrounding area for them to make sense. One of the shallower maps of the Jackson sand showed the production likely extended onto the adjoining 160 acre lease owned by Mr. Abe in Houston. Mr. Abe was a rich oilman about 10 years older than me and was an honest respectable businessman. I had seen his father in the oil patch when I was a—kid.
I had already developed the Jackson oil sand production up to the edge of Mr. Abe’s lease and he had told me he did not wish to farm-out but planned to drill on the tract himself. So I jumped across that lease and obtained a Farm-out from Exxon on 320 acres that my maps showed would be productive. After I made the wells on the Exxon acreage, Abe’s lease was proven with no risk so I expected Abe to file a drilling permit any day.
To my shock, I saw a drilling permit on Abe’s tract by my nemesis Mr. Williams – What the Hell? He had farmed out Abe’s proven tract! I called Mr. Abe to find out what I could and why he had farmed out to Mr. Watson rather than me. I fully expected him to say “we are old fraternity brothers” or “was obligated to him” or simply “he is richer than you”. No it was worse than–that. He said Watson had showed him MY MAPS and he assumed I was being carried for an interest in the deal by Watson. Mr. Abe said he had decided to Farm-out rather than drill the wells himself. I watched Mr. Watson drill three nice wells on my prospect that I had proven up for him. These wells are still producing forty years later and I never got a dime. Shades of the way J.R. Ewing (Dallas) treated people. OH Well, there are plenty of other undiscovered fields I can find rather than worry or brood over that one 160 acre lease. Sure I could have won a lawsuit but that would be a stupid move is the close knit oil community.
I was finding various new oil and gas reservoirs and now I found a nice Sparta oil trap at about 6200 feet deep. About ten feet of sand and wells that would make 200 barrels per day. As the field expanded – you guessed it! We ran across a tract where we owned 3/4 lease interest and William owned 1/4 mineral interest and it was a proven location. Would Watson now co-operate and either join us as a partner or farmout his 1/4 interest to us? That was simple and quick – NO! They would do nothing as they were not interested in a one well deal or being a minor partner in a well that would only make 200 barrels per day!
Fortunately the State of Texas has a law that prevents stopping development in cases like this. It is called forced pooling where one can drill the well, get 200% of their money back and then the interest and payments
go back to the original owner who refused to lease or join. That changes the economics quite a bit when one is paying full cost and taking the risk and limited to only getting a 100% profit instead of five or ten to one. The well paid out in six months and after about a year William began getting several thousand a month as a free ride.
Well finally William and I retired and left the skirmishes and oil wars to our children and grand children and a few lucky new young Geologists. I am not sure what Batman and the Joker are doing now.
A footnote: watch the movie “Giant” with James Dean as Jet Rink and Rock Hudson & Liz Taylor. I visualized myself as the good guy married to Liz. Also the 1940 movie, the “Wildcaters” Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Hedi Lamar & Colburn. again I was the good guy married to Colburn! After fifty Five plus years being happly married to my college sweetheart, I am permitted that illusion.
27 Blowouts and how they happen
In story number nine in above, I wrote in detail about my last blowout which was the most significant and dangerous to me since I was the operator and all responsibility and liability was directly on me. No blowout insurance as that is simply too expensive. The hand of fate or God if you prefer was with me in any event.
Over a fifty year career, I was involved in two other major blowouts where the drilling rigs were destroyed and another minor one and several near blowouts as outlined in “Birdnest on the ground” above. They all happened for the same reason under almost the same exact circumstances. How is that possible? Did I and others learn nothing from pass experience? Apparently not! They were all on the night shift 11:00PM to 7:00AM – known as the “graveyard shift” maybe for good reason. Each time the rig crew was pulling pipe from the hole and each time the borehole was not kept full of mud which acts as a weighted hydrostatic head to control and balance the bottom hole pressure. All very simple stuff but lethal
when not done. Do I have to fill the hole with mud myself? I had repeated warned the rig tool pusher and the driller not more that two hours before to keep the hole full when tripping out to log!
A sidebar note: The current gulf blowout was removing drill pipe from inside a cemented production casing string that had just been cemented in place a few hours before. The cement job was faulty because done properly there would have been no avenue for gas and going to go up the hole to the surface. A note about blowout preventers: They are simply a hydraulic tool that squeezes and packs off around the drill pipe to keep it from being blown out of the hole. A high drill blowout preventer simply allows the drill pipe to be rotated as when drilling. The cause of this accident will most certainly be human error.
My first blow out experience shows how the blowout preventers did not do their job because they were not activated as the crew was too busy running for their lives. I received an emergency call as I was at the hospital with my wife in emergency surgery. Trouble on top of trouble! Yep, my production superintendent simply said “The A-1 is blowing out and is a Hell of a mess!”
I had learned yesterday that we had a fine gas well from the good drilling break in the Woodbine sand and the good gas reading we had gotten on the mud gas logging unit. Yes the rig was pulling the drill pipe out of the hole to run confirming electric and gamma-neutron logs. Yes the rig crew had failed to keep the hole full of mud as the pipe was being pulled! No the rig was not burning but an explosions could happen at anytime as the out of control well is spewing and estimated 20,000 MCFGPD! Approximated 8,000 feet of drill pipe has blown out of the well and looks like a huge pile of spaghetti poured over the top of the collapsed drilling derrick, rig and location.
The drilling contractor has already called Red Adair and the main north south Southern Pacific rail line may have to be shutdown due to the danger of a big gas explosion. OK – sounds like there is nothing I can do there so call me if there are any changes. Boy – this is going to be a long night!
Fortunately my wife came through the emergency surgery fine and the well bridged itself over with a sand block before catching fire. The rig was partially destroyed and everyone survived the long night. Where will we drill next is now the question?
My second blowout experience was very similar. The drilling contractor called that they had reached total depth and would be out of the hole about 2:00AM to begin logging operations. We had no cell phones in those days so I was nearing the rig about midnight when I saw a glow in the sky! Yep! As I rounded the last corner I could see the derrick falling as the drilling rig was engulfed in flames and the heat had already melted the derrick legs! Yep! The drill crew failed to keep the hole full of mud and swabbed the well in as they pulled the drill pipe out of the hole.
If I ever drill another well, I will personally be on the rig floor to kick the mud pump in gear as each stand of pipe is pulled out. Count on it as no one can be trusted to do this simple thing.
#28 BROKE OILMEN
Ever hear of an oilman going broke? That is such a normal thing that the Clark Gable’s 1940 move “The Wildcatters” had Gable and Spencer Tracy going broke in Burnett Texas, again in Mexico, and finally in New York City. Most real exploration oilmen are gamblers at heart and very much like the early Gold miners looking for the mother lode. A little western gunslinger is also blended in there so Texas is a natural breeding ground as well as Louisiana along the Mississippi River. All oilmen worth their salt have gone broke or nearly so including me, but I already told you about that young bullet proof geologist who found what looked like a cinch and got in over his head. The list is long from Cornel Drake to Dad Joiner, H.L. Hunt, McCarthy and a list too long to even start.
In my youth, Dick Schwab was the local legion and Hero. Schwab City sprang up out of the East Texas forest and my grandmother painted and put
up the first “Schwab City” sign. Was their ever a Sunday dinner that didn’t include Chicken and Dumplings and a discussion of Dick Schwab? On my wall across from my computer is a framed Front Page of the Polk County Enterprise dated April 29 1933. WELL A PRODUCER – FLOWS 5,000 BARRELs per day!
Dick was 28 years old, a self proclaimed Geologist much as many oilmen before him. Even today an investor after a couple of successful wells thinks he is a Geologist when he looks at a geologic map, cross -section or well log. Young Schwab, who was personable and handsome, showed up one day in our small town as the oil craze was raging to the north at the East Texas Field and to the South at several new Salt Dome fields like Liberty and Harden. He rented a room from my grandmother.
He approached the local business men who had a little money in these depression days and solicited their help to buy leases in a certain area and drill a well. About the time they started buying lease, Shell Oil Company and Texaco Oil Company landmen showed up to buy leases covering the same spot.
Now I am a believer in mental telepathy to a certain extent but this was a little fishy considering a “Torsion Balance” crew had very recently run a survey across this very area. A “Torsion Balance” is a primitive form of Gravity meter and is able to detect the less dense salt in a buried Salt Dome which uplifts the potential oil sands and makes a very good trap for the oil. These domes are generally circular and vary from a mile to three miles across. I knew quite a bit about the Torsion balance early on because I had an uncle who headed up a crew for a little old company named Humble Oil company. They had found a nice salt dome at Humble Texas that put them into the big time and of coarse later changed their name to EXXON after finding Conroe and many other fields in the 30s and 40s.
The lease buying at Schwab City was fast and furious with keen competition for each individual lease being fought for and going to the higher bidder or slickest landman. When the smoke cleared and all the leases were bought, Schwab and partners owned about a fourth of the leases, Shell a fourth
Texaco a fourth and Humble a fourth. The leases were many scattered small tracts except for Humble who had made a deal with a lumber company who owned a large 6,000 acre tract, part of which was lapping over part of the “salt dome picture”.
Now it was normal back then for partners to divide their leases so each owned his own lease and would be free to drill his own well or do with it what he wanted. Dick Schwab divided the leases before the drilling started and the first well was on Dick’s lease. That was the discovery well at Schwab City but the Majors named the field “ Livingston, Field” for the closest town of any size. The development drilling commenced with a hundred plus productive wells drilled, most making over a thousand barrels per day.
Now comes another strange coincidence. It seems that all of the leases Dick Schwab kept were productive and all but one of the leases given to his partners were dry and beyond the edge of the Salt Dome. You would think that maybe Dick had a copy of the Torsion Balance survey or had seen it before he divided up the leases. That speculation was never proven one way or the other. In any event Dick Schwab made millions when he sold his leases and left town amid the wild gossip. My grandmother thought he was a fine young man but my father thought he was a crook.
The last time I ran across Dick Schwab he was sun-burned and broke and running a shrimp boat out of Freeport Texas. A broke oilman, who had been to the top and then lost it all drilling for more oil in south Texas.
Some stories of broke oilmen and broke oil investors are even more tragic! I knew Johnny well. He had married the girl who was my sweetheart in second grade. Johnny had inherited a family ranch and made a good living raising cattle. For some reason when someone offered him too much money for his ranch, he sold it and bought a motel in a small town near Bryan, Texas. Business was booming as a big oil play developed in the Austin Chalk which in fact was a very poor oil reservoir. Some of the big name Dallas Cowboy football stars bought into these oil wells and stayed at Johnny’s motel when they would go down there to check on their new wells being
drilled. Johnny got to know them all on a first name basis and they became his friends giving him tickets to the big games. They even offered to let Johnny in on part of the new wells they were drilling. He was flattered and borrowed the money from the Bank like the cowboys were doing. Quickly Johnny was in over his head in something he knew nothing about. I had steered clear of this play as too risky and too promotional. I only wish he or his wife had asked for my advice but I did not know what was going on until after the deed was done. The wells would come in big but would quickly drop off and barely pay off the cost. If one was in a big tax bracket the charge offs, depletion deductions and the fun may have made sense but not for someone needing to make a real profit. The price of oil dropped as it does from time to time and the production couldn’t pay off the loans and Johnny’s motel was mortgaged on the loan. The Bank foreclosed. Johnny went back to his old family farm that he had sold. He drove out to a back pasture and blew his brains out! A Very Tragic story.
Another friend came to me in a state of depression and said he was going to lose his house on a bad construction deal he had gotten himself into. Said he didn’t even have money to buy a gun to kill himself with. I thought of Johnny and asked my friend how much it would take to get out of the deal and save his house. I told my secretary to write a check for the amount and put on the check, “a gift not a loan”. A mentor once told me to never loan money to a friend or go on their note. “Give them the money if you wish but if you can’t afford to give the money, you can’t afford to loan out the money!”
My friend soon sold his house and moved to California. About ten years later, I received a check in the mail. It had on it “a gift – not a repayment. Thanks” Quite a better ending.
Another oilman friend Jessie had been rich and broke so many times that he had learned to take it in stride. His wife through it all was surely a Saint. Jessie was in the first or second graduating Geology Class at Oklahoma University and was more like a father or grandfather to me than a friend. He got rich in the oil business in Oklahoma and then went broke. He came to
East Texas and was a next door neighbor to H.L. Hunt and their children played together. They both got rich and then WWII came along and Jessie lost everything while he was in India building military pipelines. After the war he came back to the shallow oil boom in Illinois but this time got into the refinery business and made a ton of money but quickly lost it drilling for deeper oil.
He moved back to Texas and the Hunt children treated him like their favorite uncle. He introduced me to the Hunts and we three had a very successful business deal together. Jessie was quite a likeable guy, one from the old school where you didn’t need a contract – just a handshake and he would pay off even it meant going broke again. His word was his Bond just like my father and me.
I had so many friend hurting and going broke in the 80s oil price collapse that I couldn’t drive my new Jaguar to town – that was the wrong image to be projecting. Only drove the car to go to Houston or Dallas. My observations were the people who went broke were operating on borrowed money. They simply had to be leveraged to make more money and that breaks a lot of people sooner or later. Fortunately I learned that lesson very early and survived as I wrote about above. I had an early theme: If a deal is not good enough to sell and earn an interest, it is not good enough to put one’s own money in. That again is why making deals is better and easier than investing. Another way of saying making money working is easier than making money investing.
Remember the guy Bob who owned a dress shop in Athens and another in Palestine, Texas in the early 60s? He was making so much money he decided to invest in an oil well but he didn’t know any oilmen. He asked his butcher who referred him to a customer who was an ”Independent oilman”. Boy, that covers a lot of ground. So Bob called Ken and said he wanted to invest in an oil well. Ken told him by chance he had an interest for sale in a well he was going to drill in Louisiana soon and the price was $10,000. This was more than Bob had planned on spending but he said OK and got some deal papers and wrote the check.
As fate would have it – the shallow well made an oil well making about 50 barrels per day. That was great as Bob’s investment would pay out in about a year. But Bob had paid an additional $10,000 to pay for his part of the completion costs. These shallow wells took only about ten days to drill and complete so Ken started a new second well and billed Bob for another $10,000. Yep shortly they were completing and oil producer and Bob paid another $10,000. Wow he had two oil wells that would pay out in about a year. Ken said they were on a roll and spudded another well and Bob spent another $10,000. But this time the well was too far east and was a dry hole. OK, the two oil wells would still pay the $50,000 back in a year or so and besides Bob just got his first check for the first well for $1500 and Ken was already drilling No 4 well and indeed it also made a well but smaller about 20 barrels per day. Now the total investment was $70,000 but the income would shortly be $3500 a month from three wells and Bob had been in the oil business less than two months. Let’s see in five years at this rate, Bob could see a return of his $70,000 back and a profit of over $100,000. Wow this more than his two dress shops were making.
Ken was starting another well in Louisiana but he had a big deep deal in Texas near Athens that he offered Bob an interest in for $50,000 which he bought with more money borrowed from the bank, using his dress stores as collateral. About this time the last well in Louisiana was dry and the other three wells dropped off in production as they began to make saltwater. They would need three pumping units of $20,000 each. Bob investment was now up to $150,000 and his income from the three wells was down to $1,000 a month. All this in less than five months in the oil business. These wells were never going to payout. This deep well would be a big producer and bail Bob out – for certain! Wouldn’t it? Well it was a Wildcat and the odds are about 10 to 1 for a dry hole!
This is where I entered the picture and heard the story first hand from Bob while we were sitting around the rig waiting to run the electric log at total depth. I had a friend geologist who had been hired by Ken to sit on the well and evaluate the log at total depth. My friend had asked me to substitute for him when he got sick and was in the hospital for a week. It seems Ken had bought this deal and then sold it to his Louisiana investors. All these
guys were in over their head and even Ken knew very little about this prospect. I personally wouldn’t have touched it with a ten foot pole. Except to well sit and evaluate the log to help a friend out who was in the hospital.
Well of course this well was a dry hole and Bob just couldn’t believe it was not a producer like Ken said it would be. Later I heard that Bob went bankrupt and out of business when the bank foreclosed. There is a lesson here someplace!
# 29 Rank Wildcat Exploration
Let’s talk about Wildcat Exploration – let’s isolate a potential un-drilled prospective area that may contain a huge gas field. No! first let’s talk about Thinking. How much time do we spend really thinking? I used to say that about an hour a day I was really productive and the rest was shuffling papers, talking and acting on some productive thought that I had earlier.
I find that my most productive thoughts come between 3:00 & 5:00 AM. Be it in bed or sitting by a pot bellied stove in a “Rig Dog House” or driving on a country road in the Big Thicket, still 50 miles from a waiting drilling rig. GoldRunner can probably relate to that.
How long is the first thought of a good idea? A millisecond? A second? A minute or so? A thought is a fleeting thing. If it is not bounced off of someone for conformation or rejection, it may just die a lonely death. Even a rejection keeps the ball bouncing! Go on a handball court and bat a ball off the wall – if no one bats it against another wall, floor or ceiling, the bounce slowly dies. The same with fleeting ideas and some were very good ones that don’t get batted about. Thousands of good ideas go to waste.
I was once told that a person is lucky to have three original ideas in a lifetime. I have no knowledge about that but certainly most of our ideas are a combination of facts and thoughts from others. Many of those tidbits from years ago are ones that we refine or combine with additional facts and data
or opinions. The more one knows or has experienced, the more one is capable of seeing and understanding.
Personally, I specialized in a relative small area of about ten counties so I am very limited in knowledge of other geologic areas. There are similarities and basic truths and principles but each area has it quirks, secretes and tricks of mother nature. Now let’s go find a prospective area.
I have mentioned before that “scale” is all important. Things are easily seen on one scale that are invisible on another scale. I have made maps on 1” = 1000 feet for great detail and made maps on 1” = 16 miles and even 1” =32 miles for the big picture. Most exploration maps are 1’ = 4000’ as a middle ground – that way one does not see detail or the big picture either, a common mistake!
Being an “old timer” I did not have the luxury of computer mapping, 3-D, rotating from every angle and filling in un-known parameters until the wanted picture appeared. We did those things in our “mind’s eye” and yes it was sometimes impossible to explain to others with only an untrained eye.
Here is the way it worked. Look at deep geologic seismic map of Polk County. Visualize a Salt ridge along which several old oil fields exist. Start at the Segno Field, in SE Polk County, It has hundreds of wells, discovered by Gulf Oil in the 1930. Go due west to the Schwab Field, now due north to the Livingston field, then west again to the Goodrich Field, then southwest to the Urbana Field.
These are all structures along a single continuous deep underlying salt ridge. Note that these points connected together make a nice “Bay” East of the Livingston Field. Woodbine sands eroded off the Sabine uplift could be accumulated by prevailing westerly ocean currents with the old salt ridge to the south acting as a slight dam due to differential compaction or simply a hingeline. Clear as mud, most likely.
Wild speculation and dreaming? Yes! but there was a deep well drilled by Arco in the Big Thicket on Carter Lumber Company land that had 16 feet of Woodbine sand below 16,000 feet. It reportedly test flowed 20, 000MCF
before the casing collapsed and the well was lost. It was a “tite” hole but my brother and I flew low over it each day keeping track of their activity and progress. We saw that huge flare and the burned pine trees on the back side of the reserve pit! It is really hard to keep a well “tite” even behind a locked gate with guards in the deep forest. Did the Menard Creek environmental Park regulations (Yarbough) stop ARCO from drilling a follow up well? That and low gas prices at the time? This well on my maps was too far north and east to encounter the “mother lode” in my opinion although 20 million cubic feet a day would be a huge pile of money..
A number of years later, Anadarko Petroleum drilled a 22,000’ well several miles farther south and again got thin woodbine sand that reported flowed lots of gas before being abandoned with “mechanical” problems. Again this well was located too far to the east and too far south on top of the salt ridge where thin sands should be expected. The “mother lode” still sits there if it actually exists. Is there really a large thick area of Woodbine sand body that pinches out to the north against the normal continental slope and to the west against the salt ridge at the Livingston Field forming a classic trap for hydrocarbons?
Someday some enterprising young geologist will convince his company boss or his investor group to attempt to answer the question. The late 1930s geologic literature speculated at the possibility of a large gas field on the south flank of the Sabine uplift. Thirty years later that field named “Damascus” was found. What will happen in another twenty years or so? Will the “Moreland Field” be found? If so, in the name of full disclosure and the end of this story, my heirs will own a small inherited royalty under that area.
Now if one wants to really get enterprising – go to the west side of the salt ridge where Superior interpreted their extensive 3-D seismic as a Woodbine Delta. They leased the entire area with my help and proposed a 22,000’ wildcat to test the interpretation. They got slightly below the Base of the Austin and while cementing a protection string – accidently cemented a number of Drill collars in the hole. After a few days reaming cement they abandoned the project without ever reaching the designated target. But what really happened before drilling started was that Mobil bought
Superior so when they encountered trouble – the prospect only had a stepfather (Mobil) who didn’t like the project enough to drill a second well. There! That should about take care of a hundred million dollar drilling budget.
Now think really big! Current 3-D seismic is being shot on the natural inverted V trap on the southside of the salt ridge southeast of Goodrich. I once wanted to attempt to do (promote) that one but we are talking another $100 million and a 25,000 foot well. I shot two lines of seismic to confirm my idea but I had to shelve that one as too big a dream for me at an advanced age. Well that is a total of six potential monster prospects in my small area of interest. Dream on young geologists, the future has no limit if politicians would get out of the way.
Ideas are really cheap to create. They come in all sizes, good ones, bad ones in various stages of development. Some are instantly sellable even drawn out on a restaurant napkin. Some require more work and research to document and establish their risk factor. Then more work to put them in a sellable form that a moneyman or company can understand. Some take hours and some take many years as shown above. Ideas are fleeting and many good ones will be gone before you even understand them yourself. Being an Independent Exploration Geologist has to be one of the most rewarding and fun ways to make a living if one can find a little oil and gas from time to time.
# 30 Big Money from a Dry Hole – Heresy!
Above, I alluded to an investor that made big money off of one of my dry holes – so I better explain a little more so no one gets the wrong idea that it was deliberate but that was just the way it worked out.
A rich oilman that we will call “Delbert” moved to our small city from a much larger city and the Bank coffee group was soon telling how rich he was and his plans. It seems he asked what the largest, most expensive house in town was – as he planned to build a larger one. Little did I know as I listened to
this story that I was going to indirectly pay for that “largest mansion in town”.
For all struggling young geologists have heart, patience and go for the gold ring. After all it had just been a few years since my first home was a trailer house and I was proudly living in a $17,000 three bedroom house which are now about $!75,000 in East Texas – the reason you had better find and earn your own oil, gas or Gold as modest houses will cost a million in the foreseeable future. Yes, I live in a modest house on a lake as my wife doesn’t count her wealth in the number of square feet or the society circles as many do.
Delbert settled into his large suit of plush offices in the bank building where my office was at the time. Soon I was introduced to Delbert as being a young geologist that was finding lots of good prospects. Delbert invited me to show him the next good “big” deal that I had. Well as usual I had a good big deal that was risky but had a huge potential if successful – Even better it was a deep reef play like where he had made big money on a discovery in New Mexico – This was exactly what he was looking for and wanted.
As a funny sidebar: While showing the maps, seismic, cross sections, data and terms of the deal my partner on this particular deal commented, “Delbert, if this 100 feet of reef pay is there IT WILL MAKE YOU RICH!” A deep frown was on Delbert’s face as he pushed back his chair and said. “I am already rich” WOW this guy had a touché ego! Smoothing his insulted ego, I explained that was just an East Texas expression and meant no offense as we knew he was very rich indeed. Well few others had a Florida vacation house on their own island – are you listening Wanka?
This prospect was a classic prospect for me. It was an old Humble prospect and they had drilled a 17,000 foot dry hole on it and I was second guessing them – that they had drilled in the wrong place on the reef to get production. Boy I wasn’t intimidated by Humble geologist or anyone else – I figured they put their pants on just like me, one leg at a time.
Here was my analysis and simple reasoning and it sold everyone who looked at it. The old Humble well had 105 of oil staining and fluoresce in the top of the Sligo reef which was non porous and no permeability (flow capacity). The well was located on the crest of the reef according to the seismic so the well was plugged, abandoned and all the leases were dropped by nonpayment of rentals.
Had Humble missed a large oil field? Well maybe! The 105 feet of oil staining told me that the oil had been there at one time and moved. After the vugs and cavities were no longer filled with oil, Mother Nature simply cemented the voids with more limestone. OK, but why and where did the oil go? Simple Mr. Watson:
As more and more sediments get deposited on the gulf coast and buried deeper and deeper – a tilt develops and gets greater and greater with depth. Sure everyone wants to drill the crest of a reef but that is not the highest point on the reef a hundred million years later on our Gulf Coast. There right on the seismic – it clearly shows the toe of the reef is 200 feet higher than the crest! Shock! And anybody could see that! That is where oil always moves – to the highest structural position it can get to. The regional reef crosses a structural nose –this is so simple and obvious that a fourth grader can see it –including my new friend Delbert.
OK, here is the deal: The prime structural closure covers approximately 20, 000 acres that need to be leased quietly and quickly before someone else figures out what we are doing. That will cost about $50 an acre including title work and acquisition costs. No problem, Delbert agrees to put a team of fifteen landmen on the ground as soon as he has partners. I get a geologic fee of $30,000 plus a 1/16 free overriding royalty for my geology, data and sitting on the well to pick core points, logging points etc. I will also help Delbert sell 3/4 of the deal on the basis that one quarter pays for one third of the actual costs. A standard oil field deal that clears Delbert a free 1/4 working interest. The deal is done and six months later the rig was moving in and almost ready to start drilling away.
Another funny sidebar: As the land was being leased, the head landman called me up and he was furious! He was under orders to keep a low profile and do the title and lease work very quietly and secretly to not cause undue attention to the leasing. The small county seat town of Woodville and court house was almost deserted except for the landmen in the basement of the court house and the town domino players on the porch of Farmboy’s country store. Now all hell and excitement breaks lose as Delbert dives up and parks at the court house in his new Red Mercedes. Now people in this small rural east Texas town had never seen a Mercedes and in fact called them Mer-ce- des! The word was out on the party lines – a rich oil fellow was in town buying oil and gas leases – that probably ran the lease cost up another $50,000!
This was in the 1970s and the general economy collapsed and this put Delbert in a bind when the Bank called a note on some big loans he had made to expand his other wide spread business ventures and building the largest Manson in town. Delbert needed lots of immediate cash so he sold his free ¼ interest in this wildcat well. Remember that the ¼ interest was sold for 1/3 of the cost. So the more the well cost, the more the interest costs and the more Delbert makes as Delbert only owes the well operator ¼ of the actual cost. Think about that a minute and understand it.
Well, the hand of fate was active on this prospect and everything that could go wrong – did! The well encountered lost circulation and the pipe was stuck several times and extra days were spent to jar it loose and wash over some sections. Bit bearing and cones were lost in the hole and had to be fished out. Gas kicks were encountered in the Austin Chalk and tight thin woodbine sands which ran the mud bills up. Worst of all the reef was tight with no porosity to contain oil. An expensive completion attempt was made to get a commercial gas well in the tight woodbine sands was not successful. Bottomline: A were expensive dry hole.
Very bad for me because my 1/16 overriding royalty interest was worthless but good for Delbert as he made approximately $720,000 profit on this dry hole – just about the cost of his new mansion. Of course, if the well had found the reef mother lode that house would have cost him about the cost of
the Hearst Castle. Delbert did get a lot of local criticism for selling all his interests in the well but that was a bad financial time for banks and people with short term debt and he was in a cash flow squeeze.
Now the ironical part: Today every acre of that 22,000 acre lease block has been put in productive gas units as the new technology of horizontal drilling made the gas in the Austin Chalk and tite woodbine sands commercial. Timing is everything. A 1/16 ORR under the block would be worth a fortune today. Oh well, where do we drill next?
#31 Secretes to Finding Oil and Gas
Here are the facts: Many thousands of Geologists have access to and look at the same data and records and yet a lone Independent Geologist like me finds a number of new Fields that no one else saw or didn’t pursue the leads that led to the discoveries. I find that amazing. I was a very average student. I had no money. I started at the bottom rung of the ladder in the mud and cold on the graveyard shift. I didn’t just get luckly and fall into a fortune. I worked and earned interests in well after successful well with my fair share of dry holes and disappointments. I did have a burning desire to find oil and gas and in reality I just copied what I saw other successful oilmen do, leaving out some of the mistakes I observed others doing.
I tried to explain above why a few geologists find most of the oil. I focused on the qualities of the oil finders as opposed to the paper shufflers. Maybe there are also a few secretes to tell so I will dig a little deeper like Mike Halbouty drilled another 25 feet deeper to discover the Port Acres Field.
I have pointed out in the Dove Hunt story how past well production data screamed out to me that an existing Field was four times bigger than the original five wells. For twenty years thousands of geologists reviewed that production data and didn’t recognize it. Why? I pointed out how the production data from a Mitchell well showed it was in a
super reservoir and Mitchell’s geologists and production people did nothing in-a-timely-manner.Why? I pointed out that any geologist had access for years to scout and core reports of Wilcox oil shows in the old Oil Reserves dry hole plus seismic data that showed the oil field was immediately north and ignored it. Why?
Endless hours are spent by thousands of company geologists working on big salaries, pouring over old data trying to connect the dots leading to a new field. Many geologists are restricted by their own company guidelines on depth, on reserves, certain trends, formations and even bias against certain counties. Most don’t recognize a significant clue when they see it. I was always amazed when I went into the bowels of the big companies with their badge security, locked doors etc of how little the individuals employees knew. They had to be in a team environment – they knew only their pigeon holed job or area as I related about a Conroe field extension prospect that was pure major company garbage. They presented computer manipulated seismic data that a 9 year old could discount to zero once the original seismic data was made available. The one place that Big Oil Companies do well is offshore. The reason is that is a private club with oil reserved for the very rich. They have no competition. You simply buy a large concession and shoot seismic until you find a large structure sticking up like a sore thumb. That was the way the entire onshore gulf coast was before thousands of oil fields were found. Like shooting fish in a rain barrel. Just as easy as finding a place to drill a gas well is today.
When doing research today onshore many geologists simply don’t know what they are looking for of how to get information if it is not on a computer disc that a program can analyze and evaluate. Oh one can come across red flags, ringing bells and flashing lights, I’ve had a few of those myself. But generally it is stubble clues that connect other dots together like Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Knowing the right questions to ask: Why are some wells producing more or less than they should? I showed several examples of that above. Where and how to get information that is not available? Boy, I gave some good examples of that above. Can we get information from the source that others don’t have? Yep, all the way from a retired field gauger to little known sources in secure enclaves like the Balcones Research Center.
THE SECRETE: I believe the answers are simple. Most geologists, petroleum engineers, production people and office staff work for a monthly salary. They make the same money working for the company regardless of how much oil and gas they find. There is simply very little incentive to find anything except the coffee bar. Independent Geologists either find production and get rich or go broke – quite a difference. Incentives find oil and gas. That is “The Secrete”. Pay a geologist a small salary plus a generous overriding royalty in any production he finds. Better yet he becomes Independent and his own boss. If he is any good he will get rich, If he can’t find oil and gas he will quit and work for someone who pays a big salary and good benefits. Understand that no geologist deliberately fails to find oil, doesn’t work hard or do his best – but that is not enough – that finds very little oil and gas.
Maybe the real bottom-line secrete to finding oil and gas is to be completely honest and creditable. Also being “Lucky” helps a lot – we have already talked about making our own luck, both good and bad. Secretes? I have given you everything I know in these stories and it all worked for me like magic.
# 32 Crooks – quite a Variety
We’ve talked about honesty – let’s talk about crooks next: It can be quite insightful to be “streetsmart” and know how crooks operate. Try this story as a starter. When one starts digging below the covers, you never know what you will find. A certain well that I researched had produced three times what the surrounding wells had produced. Yet my geologic maps showed that well was on the very edge of production. Was this well draining gas from an area that looked dry or was there some other reason? Why had it produced more than the other wells that were near identical? I had to know!
As you recall, a similar production anomaly in the story about a dove hunt led to finding a huge undrilled productive area. Could this be another
screaming opportunity or would it cause me to drill an expensive dry-hole like my geology said a new well would be? Lots of money on the line here – I had-to-find-the-correct-hidden-answer. After much time and deep research, This is what I found to my disgust. Two brothers had adjoining sections of farmland and an Oil company made a big gas well on each farm with the well spacing being one well per each 640 acres, a normal land section. The gas allowable of how much a well can produce each month is determined by potential tests run on each well. They are revised every few months by the well operator who is in control of these tests and their results are filed with the Texas railroad commission who issue a production allowable for each well supposedly to keep things fair to all concerned.
The production superintendent of this company had approached one of the brothers when the field was discovered with the following offer. If the landowner would sell him (personally) one fourth of his royalty, his well would produce more gas than the surrounding wells and therefore he would make more money from his 3/4 than he would from all his royalty if he didn’t sell. The brother told him he was not interested.
The superintendent made the same offer to the other brother who was not so honest and sold 1/4 of his royalty. Over the following years, the second brother’s well made about three times the gas as the first brother’s well or any other well in the field for that matter. That particular well drained some of the gas from the adjoining gas units on all sides of it. That is simply what the old production records showed and the logs and cores from the wells were almost identical. My detailed and deep investigation turned up the details of what and how this happened with a degree of certainty that I believed after connecting the detailed credible dots, including the recorded royalty deed and division order for run payments. A lot of research time but I had to know the facts. The thing that stunned me the most was that one brother stole gas from his brother. The bad brother and production superintendent were crooked to the core. My evidence was not something that could be taken to court but it was enough to save me the cost of drilling a dry-hole on misleading or pure dishonest information. The bottom line here is that real research when pursued to a deep level can
lead to evidence beyond what one might expect and beyond geologic and technical data .
Bigger-Crooks: An old oil field south of Houston was the target of some slant hole crooks. They bought a lease beyond the edge of the field and beyond a fault line that was apparent in some of the edge wells. They said their wildcat well would test the field oil sand in the downthrown block beyond the field limits. It made a nice oil well. The operator of the closest oil lease in the field decided he had a location across this fault so he also drilled a well which should have been a cinch producer. But low and behold, it was a dry hole with-no-shows. Impossible! Well yes and no. Further investigation and finally a lawsuit and court order showed what happened. A directional survey showed the new discovery outside the field was not a new discovery at all. It was a crooked (slant) hole that simply went a mile over into the existing field into his neighbor’s oil sand. This way of stealing oil became quite common around the huge East Texas field until the Texas attorney General and Railroad Commission cracked down in the late 1960s. A number of crooked operators went to jail.
HUMAN-NATURE-NEVER-CHANGES There are little roughneck thieves that steal tools and big thieves who steal equipment, oil and anything of value. The plain old crooks just cheat and steal money in many varied ways. I am not blind so I have seen it all from various distances and circumstances and in some cases told to me. An attorney had me spend the afternoon in his law library reading about some famous cases when I was still wet behind the ears.
One interesting and famous case that involved, who was the legal heir to a vast fortune from the Mexia field but I don’t remember the case name. It seems a large landowner had a son who was a worthless bum and renegade and after the mother died ran away from home. The fabulous Mexia oil field was found under Mr. Jones’ farm. The man remarried and his new wife wanted a son to inherit the wealth but she knew she couldn’t have children. She pretended to be pregnant and stuffed her clothes will larger and larger pillows over the next nine months. She went to visit her sister in
Dallas and came home with a newborn son that she claimed she had while in Dallas. The son was never adopted by Mr. Jones because he thought he was his son. Mr. Jones died without a will so the property was to be split between the two sons. Someone who knew the facts came forward and a lawsuit ensued with all the details. Yes the bum got all the wealth.
Illegal Mexican Oil:
Once I was approached to broker a crooked deal by someone who didn’t know me all that well. He thought that I could be bought if the money was big enough and it was really big. I would like to think that I couldn’t be bought for any price and that fear and distrust had nothing to do with my rejecting the deal before all the details could be laid out. The deal: This guy wanted me to use my connections with a large Houston crude oil purchaser to buy 100,000 barrels per day from Mexico at $3.00 below the posted price. I could keep $1.00 and this guy would get $1.00 and his partner who was a relative of a Mexican official would get —Whoa! No way will I be involved in this in any way! Don’t ever mention this or any other thing about the oil business to me ever again. $100,000 a day wouldn’t be much good in prison. I often wondered if that was some kind if sting operation. There is only one stealing operation that was common and approved in the oil patch. In gas fields the landowners were allowed to steal all the distillate (condensate) they wanted for use in their tractors. Most separators and tanks had special petcock valves for that purpose. That was a small cost and perk to keep the landowners happy. The early leases had provisions for the landowner to get free natural gas if they wanted it, before safety regulations eliminated that little free perk.
The bottom-line on honesty in the oil patch is a little more extreme. On one side there are big deals made on a handshake with a simple letter agreement confirming the details of the verbal deal. I have seen and honored verbal handshake agreements that cost a bundle. On the other side there are little and big time real crooks out there at all levels. My most shocking observations were; how cheap people would sell out their principles – from the highest politicians to the lowest officials, well as private individuals with their palm out.
All of the above is the reason that Rule One for success in business is: Pay particular attention to who you chose to do business with. Rule two is Pay attention to Trends. Rule three is your word is your Bond. Additions to these are: Control greed, plan cash flow, avoid credit and debt, be patient, constantly evaluate risks, expect the unexpected, Trust people until they prove otherwise, look at the big picture, think out of the box, remember crisis can be opportunity for those prepared and willing to act.
# 33 The Last Flight
The title “Last Flight” is short but is more emotional and symbolic to me than I-can-convey. I was a youngster in the 1930s Golden age of aviation and my heroes were pilots: Lindberg, Wiley Post, Rickenbacker, and Howard Hughes. My father took me for my first ride in a J-3 Piper Cub when I was five. World War II came along and we moved to a number of Air Force bases when my father volunteered for the Air Force. More pilot heroes: Jimmy Parker an older neighbor who flew his B-25 off the carrier Hornet with Doolittle to bomb Tokyo, my cousin Charles who was shot down defending Guadalcanal, My Dad’s best friend who also was killed in a fiery plane crash. I was destined to be a fighter pilot or test pilot and was consumed by every aspect of aviation. My high school year book predicted that I would be a famous test pilot for Chance-Vought Aircraft in Ft Worth but heart problems at a young age stopped that career.
The war ended and I became a Geologist and finally made enough money to buy my own Piper Super Cub and a landing strip out my backdoor. My flying dream had finally come true and I added a Cessna “STOL” Wren with both planes used for trips every few days to drilling rigs etc. Both dreams of being a pilot and finding oil complimented each other. I prepared to buy a new manufactured Waco F-5 Bi-Plane and built a bigger hanger for it, picked out the paint scheme and “N” number. This was a “Cadillac” airplane, a 265 HP Jacobs’s radial engine, glove leather interior and every aviation instrument a pilot could want.
Then it happened and my flying dream ended when I lost the sight in my right eye and my flying medical could not be renewed when it was due to expire in a month or so. Oh yes Wiley Post flew around the World solo in 1933 in the “Winnie Mae” with one eye but the new rules said no one eyed pilots could be given renewed medicals without a co-pilot restriction – not tolerable for the loner in me.
My last legal flying day arrived and there was something I had to do on that last flight. First a little background about flying back and forth to various drilling rigs in a slow, low flying Super Cub or a Cessna “STOL” Wren. Many times flying along at 500 to a 1000 feet where the view is best to see deer, fishing holes, horses and such, a strange thing would happen. Flying over a farm house, youngsters in the yard or at the barn would wave and I would wave the wings back at them. Were they dreaming of flying someday as I did when I was their age? Maybe they were just waving at anyone who came by, like I did when a motor boat would come down the Trinity River in back of our Log House when I was a kid. I went to the toy store and bought a dozen airplanes and a roll of bright orange surveyor tape. I tied a ten foot streamer on each toy plane and stowed them in my Cub where I could quickly reach them. A few days later when a kid waved at my Super Cub, I would circle and drop a toy airplane near them that they could easily see falling with the orange streamer attached. Over the years I must have dropped a hundred toy planes to future pilots. On some occasions I would land in their hay patch and inquire of the parents about hunting, fishing and camping sites and give rides to the youngsters with their parent’s permission.
On one deep well that took several months to drill, I flew over the same house many times traveling to the rig deep in the Big Thicket Piney woods. Each time two young boys waved and jumped up and down with excitement over receiving a toy airplane. These two boys really connected with me from 300 feet below with their great enthusiasm. On later trips I added small care boxes with aviation books by Gann and Richard Bach, hats with airplane logos, aerial pictures of their house and small farm, and all kinds of aviation trivia for kids. They had a Lab puppy so I added a dog training book and pictures of my Lab retrieving ducks and doves. I would have liked to land
but the space in the forest was too small for even my cub which I could land in very small tight places and dirt roads if the trees were not over-hanging too tightly.
Well on that last flight I dropped my last care box with a note inside that said, I wouldn’t be back as this was my last flight due to health issues. I waved the wings big and returned home. That last approach and last time over my north fence and touch down into my coastal hay patch was a sad time for me – The end of a lifelong dream of flying my own planes. They had carried me all over the U.S. – from Oshkosh in Wisconsin to Sun and fun in Florida – to rigs and hunting and fishing trips. The wife and I with our folding bikes flew to Galveston often to ride the sea wall to Guido’s for Sunday lunch. Plus we went to every restaurant and golf course within 300 miles that was in biking distance of a landing spot. Flying was almost an everyday adventure and the dream was quite painful to give up. Family, the oil patch and flying have been my passions for as long as I can remember and more recently Gold.
There is a footnote to this story: I was not aware of it at the time but those boys were quite upset that my note said this was my last flight and I wouldn’t be back. So much so that their mother tried to find out who I was and where I lived, although I lived over a hundred miles away. She even called her Congressman to see if he could help determine who I was. Of course he couldn’t because she had no airplane wing number. A Cub only requires a small tail number that can’t be read from the ground instead of the large wing numbers on most private planes. She told the story of a little Yellow airplane that dropped toys and airplane books to her young boys. A newspaper printed the story with pictures and joined the search for me.
Yes they eventually located me and I learned the names of the two boys and their family. I called them and learned much about them. I was quite impressed and arranged for the boys to go flying free in the EAA young eagles program, at an airport about 50 miles from their home. I also arranged for partial four year scholarships for both boys to Texas A&M. They plan to take flying lessons someday so maybe I accomplished a small
mission to replace an aging pilot and maybe even a retired Independent Geologist.
Well that was “The Last Flight” and time to turn off the lights on the story telling. It has been a fun journey to reminisce about. Goodnight. Deadeye.