December 1954

What is the most active area for drilling in the U.S. in December of 1954? Would you believe Garvin and Grady Counties in Oklahoma, with 114 active rotaries? Armed with better geology and a new tool – fracturing – the industry is taking another look at prospects it passed up 16 years ago. Springer sand production is the sparkplug that has fired the play. The last holdout operator fighting against SACROC unitization in West Texas finally sells his interest in the huge field. Fort Worth icon W.A. Moncrief and his associates – including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope – walk away with $21,000,000 for their properties. The buyer is Ponies Oil Co., which subsequently agreed to the unitization.

What is believed to be the largest and fastest electronic digital computer in the oil industry is currently being installed in the R&D laboratories of Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. in Paulsboro, N.J. Its memory can reportedly retain 4,000 ten-digit numbers. (As Gomer would say, "Well golllllllly!")

East Texas crude oil - $2.90/bbl; U.S. rig count – 2,738


December 1979

Nuclear energy halts its brisk growth in the U.S. on the heels of the Three Mile Island incident and other shutdowns for safety reviews. Because of a backlash against Iran’s U.S. hostage-taking, Islamic OPEC members refuse to join Iran’s proposed export boycott against the U.S. (My how things have changed!) Meanwhile, back home in Teheran, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule over the country continues to slip away. (Every Tom, Dick, and Harry Ayatollah is reportedly out for his job.) The largest corporate merger in history is being challenged in the courts. Mobil is attempting to block Shell’s proposed $3.65 billion takeover of Belridge Oil. (That’s pocket change for today’s mergers.)

At the same time that Mexico is fast approaching a production level of 2 million b/d and is destined to become a world power in oil, its agricultural sector falls into decline. Why? Because too many agricultural workers are entering the U.S. illegally to perform the same work but at a higher wage.

U.S. rig count – 2,520


December 1994

Norway’s future as a major gas supplier to Europe may have been threatened by Norwegian voters’ rejection of European Union membership. Norway remains the only Scandinavian country outside the EU. (Interesting how two of the largest North Sea producing countries – England and Norway – opt out of the EU.) UK Crown Estate Commissioners approve plans to drill a well on the grounds of Windsor Castle. If proven out, development drilling would reportedly be done directionally from outside the grounds of the castle. (I can’t wait to see the ceremony for the changing of the rig crew.) You thought it odd that the crude oil regulatory body for the state of Texas was the Texas Railroad Commission. Did you also know that up until this month, the U.S. House of Representatives committee with jurisdiction over offshore leasing was the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee? Russian news reports chronicle a clear shift in focus by Russian organized crime from banking to oil and gas, with a dramatic increase in attempted assassinations of major players in the oil and gas sector.

West Texas Intermediate - $17.81/bbl; Natural gas - $1.73/MMBTU; U.S. rig count – 827


December 1999

The three oil exporters that masterminded the rounds of production cuts that recently boosted oil prices – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Mexico – report that they stand ready to make up any supply shortfall that may result from the Y2K computer glitch threat. Venezuelan voters give President Hugo Chavez an overwhelming mandate when they approve a referendum on a new constitution giving him sweeping new powers and a strong shot at a 12-year term of office. Now the likelihood is that President Chavez and Energy Minister Rodriguez will scramble to ease jittery foreign petroleum investors’ concerns about stability in Venezuela. Royal Dutch/Shell reveals that it is raising its cost-savings target from $2.5 billion to $4 billion in an effort to better compete with new rivals ExxonMobil and BP Amoco.

West Texas Intermediate - $25.44/bbl; Natural Gas - $2.37/MMBTU;

U.S. rig count – 796

The Rest of the Yarn

Allow me to return to an earlier tradition practiced in this column, that being to share a favorite Christmas story befitting the season. In this case it is a condensation of a short story by O. Henry entitled "The Gift of the Magi."

Tomorrow would be Christmas and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months. Twenty dollars a week just doesn’t go very far. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took great pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair.

Della let her beautiful hair fall about her. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. She pulled it up quickly and nervously. She faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet. On went her brown jacket; on went her brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran and collected herself. "Will you buy my hair?" asked Della. "I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it." Down rippled the brown cascade. "Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand. "Give it to me quick," said Della.

The next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present. She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. It was a platinum chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it, she knew that it must be Jim’s. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with 87 cents to spare. With that chain on, Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as his watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home, her intoxication gave way to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look like a truant schoolboy. "If Jim doesn’t kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?"

Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. "Please God," she prayed. "Make him think that I am still pretty." Jim stepped in the door. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. "Jim, darling," she cried, "don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold it because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again. I just had to do it. Say Merry Christmas! Jim and let’s be happy."

"You’ve cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously. "Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don’t you like me just as well anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?" Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table. "Don’t make any mistake, Dell," he said. "I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package, you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy that quickly turned to hysterical tears and wails. For there lay The Combs that Dell had worshipped for so long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. Her heart had craved and yearned for them without the least hope of possession. She hugged them to her bosom, and at length, she was able to look up with teary eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!" Jim had not seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The precious metal seemed to reflect her bright and ardent spirit. "Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it." "Dell," said he, "let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs."

The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to The Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures in their home. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest. They are the magi.

History Quiz

What Texas city was the sight for the first full-scale helium plant in the U.S.? Hint: It was not Amarillo.

Tie Breaker: In the 1950’s what institution was the benefactor of Ponies Oil Co.?

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

Answer to November’s Quiz

The wire rope sheaves atop original derricks utilized journal bearings, lubricated with water. The water table was the structure located to support numerous, leather water buckets holding the water used for lubrication and cooling.

Answer to October’s Quiz

As far back as the second century, the Chinese are known to have used spring-pole rigs, bronze chisel bits, and bamboo casing to drill 1,500 ft into the earth in search of salt water. Ironically in their search for salt water, they often found gas, which they used to evaporate the brine.

Congratulations to October’s winner - Robert Coles with Superior Energy Services.