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You can’t build a global multi-trillion-dollar industry without it. Talk about economic drivers and storage levels and price points and advancements in drill bit technology all you want, but the romance, the thrill, is the fuel of the oil business. That is the thread—sometimes brash, sometimes subtle—running through the stories of the Hall of Famers and Agents of Change in Energy in the accompanying special edition of this month’s Oil and Gas Investor that commemorates Hart Energy’s 50th anniversary.
Take away the thrill and you take away the industry. Take away the industry and the colorful characters who transformed the world with dirty fluid coming out of rocks would have turned their attention elsewhere and we’d all be driving Stanley Steamers.
“You make a hole in the earth and out comes oil. So you sell the oil and sink more wells, and those come in, and pretty soon you have a field.”
The speaker isn’t a Hall of Famer but a fictional character named Lena Doyle, a wildcatter in 1913 Oklahoma who is struggling to bring in a well on her land while a giant oil company tries to take it from her. “Oklahoma Crude” is a 1973 film starring Faye Dunaway, George C. Scott, Sir John Mills and Jack Palance, and directed by Stanley Kramer with screenplay by Marc Norman.
Historical note: Fifty years ago, oil companies were perceived as evil, not the oil itself. OGI could probably publish a special edition based solely on that idea.
But back to Lena, in a passage from Norman’s book but left out of the movie: “And you sell stock and you capitalize and you own wells all over the country and you recapitalize and you amalgamate, and now the whole world wants your oil—China and Africa want your oil—and your oil is running lights and machines and trains and ships….”
“What about electricity?” asks the Mase character, somehow hung up on the Inflation Reduction Act 109 years before its passage.
“You need a waterfall,” responds Lena, who apparently lacks Mase’s clairvoyance or she would have touched on the limitations of wind, solar, hydrogen and geothermal, as well. “Oil just needs a flame. Cheaper than coal, more efficient than steam—refine it and you get kerosene, asphalt, naphtha and gasoline—asphalt for the roads and gas for all the cars on the roads—oil in every home, oil on every wheel….”
The soliloquy could have been uttered by a fair number of Hall of Famers. Here is Michel Halbouty’s take on the proud tribe of wildcatters:
“They never disturbed our economy because most of them lost their fortunes as fast as they made them,” the legendary geologist said in a speech in the early 1960s, as written in a biography by Jack Donahue. “But in doing this, they were finding the fuel to provide the energy for a new way of life. There is not another breed of men on earth who could have or would have done what they did.”
A little self-serving, given that Halbouty was a legendary wildcatter himself, but he hits on another theme just below the surface in the Hall of Famers’ success stories: risk. Almost all of the legends experienced failure, but they bounced back anyway with the next well or the next deal.
The would-be heroes of energy who found disappointment instead of oil, no matter where or how far down they drilled; who bet big on technology that just didn’t work; whose deal of a lifetime left them flat out broke; who ultimately gave up … they have interesting stories, too. You just won’t read them in Oil and Gas Investor.
Those who succeed, who set themselves apart from the rest, don’t just take the risk—they understand the risk they’re taking.
Ray C. Davis, a co-founder of Energy Transfer, said this about Hall of Famer Kelcy Warren:
“Kelcy doesn’t think like other people. He sees possibilities where others don’t.”
That “how the hell did they come up with that?” trait is common among the legends, not just in oil and gas, but in all fields—Da Vinci, Einstein, Jobs, Spinoza, Koufax, Tesla, King, Turing, Meitner (Google her).
And it makes sense that those in the oil and gas field would feel some defensiveness and resentment when their achievements are so often dismissed by so many who benefit so much from them. Where’s the love, people?
By the way, “Oklahoma Crude” did OK for itself. It garnered three stars (out of four) from the legendary film reviewer Roger Ebert, and Henry Mancini received a Golden Globe nomination for best original song.
The name of that song? “Send a Little Love My Way.”
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