September 1953

What is reported to be the first large-scale private search for oil in Alaska is begun with the dispatching to Alaska of a WW II surplus LST loaded with 1,500 to 2,000 tons of drilling equipment, drill pipe, logging equipment, and road-building equipment. The equipment will be employed in an exploratory drilling project funded by Phillips and Kerr-McGee. The target is a million-acre lease block along the southeastern Alaskan coast. As the petroleum industry begins to infiltrate the Williston Basin in North Dakota, so do some of the practices and idiosyncrasies of the Texans that have migrated there to do the work. The story is told of a Texas driller perched on a stool in a café in Williston, N.D. who ordered a bowl of chili, only to be told by the waitress that they don’t have any chili, but they do have beef stew. The Texan reportedly looked at the waitress and blurted out: "Who the Sam Hill ever heard of eating beef stew for breakfast?"

East Texas crude oil - $2.90 per bbl; U.S. – 2,632 rigs running

September 1978

The hot Pemex Gulf of Campeche play gets hotter, as eight of the ten holes drilled have yielded production. It is expected that Pemex’s total average production by year-end will reach 1.2 million BOPD. Iraq agrees to resume supplying crude to Turkey in return for repayment of a $300 million debt from previous oil purchases. In the spirit of

old-fashioned bartering, Turkey will repay with 400 buses and large quantities of wheat. Mobil joins Exxon, Union and Phillips as invitees to Peking for talks on offshore exploration. Pennzoil is also invited, but only if Arnold promises to accompany their entourage. U.S. oil imports are predicted to begin rising again, due ostensibly to declines in Alaska’s North Slope production.

U.S. – 2,325 rigs running

September 1993

Lloyd’s of London and 100 other insurance companies file a lawsuit against Exxon claiming its decision to voluntary clean up the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was a public relations gimmick. The lawsuit claims that Exxon was not under legal obligation to clean up the spill. Pemex reports plans to reduce its work force to 50,000 by year-end 1994. Since 1989, Pemex has laid off approximately 120,000 workers. What a difference the past 10 years has made…The top three operators in net wells drilled in 1992 no longer exist, namely, Enron (#1), Amoco (#2) and Union Pacific Resources (#3).

WTI - $18.14 per bbl; Natural Gas - $2.39 per MMBTU; U.S. – 834 rigs running

September 1998

Data released by the DOE reveal that proved oil reserves in the U.S. increased in 1997 for the first time in a decade, while gas reserves were up for the fourth year running. The heads of Total and Elf downplay their interest in the current merger mania. Elf’s Philippe Jaffre states, "Acquisitions are not a path of roses." Amerada Hess and Oryx Energy begin GOM production on Baldplate, the world’s tallest free-standing structure. Despite continuing merging of their refining and marketing operations, Shell and Texaco continue to deny any plans to merge their E&P operations. (How long can Shell hold out as an "independent" major?)

WTI - $14.77 per bbl; Natural Gas - $2.14 per MMBTU; U.S. – 773 rigs running

The Rest of the Yarn

Known as the "king of the wildcatters," he once said that the trouble with the oil business was that people expected to find oil on the surface. He discovered millions of barrels of oil in fields that his competitors had abandoned because he was willing to drill deeper.

In the midst of a fruitful career as a cotton broker in San Antonio, he determined the flow of wealth was headed to Houston and moved his family there in 1911. He quickly earned a reputation as an honest, reliable cotton buyer and eventually acquired a seat on the Houston Cotton Exchange. But in 1917 he became interested instead in a method called "creekology," detecting oil through the study of surface geology and the paths of flowing water around land formations. Over the next several years, his philosophies of digging deeper and creekology led to profitable discoveries at Pierce Junction and Blue Ridge.

In 1928, he founded the South Texas Petroleum Company with partner Jim West. At the Humble Field, where oilmen and geologists had tried unsuccessfully to produce oil for 30 years, he was able to produce 5,000 barrels per day. After five years of strong production at Rabb’s Ridge, he and West sold the field to the Humble Company and dissolved their partnership. He took his portion of the proceeds and formed Quintana Petroleum in 1932. Within a year, he discovered the Tom O’Connor Field, at one time the largest oilfield in the state. In 1938 he divided the interests and oilfields of Quintana Petroleum among his four daughters and their children. His new company, Quintana Products, was then able to drill for oil in the fields owned by the trusts of his descendents.

One of his role models was his grandfather Ezekiel, who founded the public school system in Texas. So when his only son, Roy Gustave, was killed by a falling derrick in 1936, he funded a building at the University of Houston in his name. His donations to the school over the next 20 years took the university from one building on a high school campus to nine colleges with 45 buildings on 250 acres of land. In 1947 he established a foundation in his name for the purpose of supporting education, medicine, and charitable institutions. By 1955 he had reportedly given away 93 percent of an estimated $250 million fortune to Houston’s public universities, the Medical Center, the arts organizations, the Boy Scouts and the YMCA.

Although he never ran for public office, he was a believer in states’ rights and a champion of the free enterprise system. He once said that he was prepared to "…fight for the things that I believe made America strong, and to defend my country against the foreign ‘isms’ and the European and Asiatic political systems that I believe will make us weak and ultimately destroy us." His name was Hugh Roy Cullen. And now you know…The Rest of the Yarn.

Readers are encouraged to submit brief, ostensibly true stories about notable personalities from our industry’s storied past. Submissions should be e-mailed to

History Quiz

Futurists in the early 1950’s were predicting that the advent of television would enhance furniture sales and decrease the need for crude oil. Put on your thinking caps and explain the logic behind their predictions.

If you would like to participate in this month’s quiz, e-mail your answer to by noon, September 15. The winner, who will be chosen semi-randomly from all correct answers, will receive a $50 gift certificate to a nice restaurant.

Answer to May’s Quiz

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the USGS assessed the petroleum potential (both crude oil and natural gas) of all states having conditions favorable to the accumulation of petroleum and identified Pennsylvania and Indiana as having the most land area with potential petroleum resources. Several people guessed Pennsylvania as one of these two states, but no one guessed the Hoosier state as the second of the two states, thus, no winner this month.

Answer to April’s Quiz

The term "mud groceries," coined by the oil industry in the 50’s as a PR move to assuage the concerns of farmers fearful of the physical damage that might result from E&P operations on their land, referred to drilling mud lost circulation materials in common use at that time. These materials included chicken feathers, beet pulp, wheat bran, flax seed, rice and beans, and the term was chosen to describe the contribution that farm products were making to the ultimate success of many oil wells.

Congratulations to April’s winner (several correct answers this month) – Robert Urbanowski with Grey Wolf Drilling.