January 1961
The staggering cost for drilling a planned 26,000 ft Mecom well in South Louisiana is estimated to be $1.75 MM. If completed as planned, it will be the world’s deepest. $ Rumors on the street are that Union of California will soon be jointly owned by Gulf and Phillips. $ An interesting result of Saudi Arabia’s bloodless palace revolution and deposing of Prince Faisal is the emergence of Abdullah Tariki as the Saudi oil minister. (Stay tuned for more to be heard from this soon-to-be global oil leader.) $ After a six-year hitch as exploration chief for Petrobras, Walter Link reports that Brazil will probably not uncover any large oil plays unless some new oil-discovery tools are developed, and thus he advises private oil companies against investing exploration money in Brazil. (Well, Walter was at least half right.)
East Texas crude oil - $3.05-3.25/bbl; U.S. active rig count – 1,735
January 1981
Mexico reports plans to cancel two fishing treaties with the U.S., thus clouding the status of future oil/gas import deals. $ President-elect Reagan has already begun informal visits with Mexican President Lopez Portillo to try and turn around President Carter’s diplomatic disasters with Mexico. $ Oklahoma Senators Boren and Nickles report plans to introduce a blitz of bills designed to kill or cripple the “windfall profits” tax on crude oil. $ Congress Watch, a Ralph Nader affiliated group, vows to continue to push for a government-owned energy company. $ The record-setting U.S. active rig count continues with 24 consecutive weeks with over 3,000 rigs working.
U.S. active rig count – 3,344

January 2001
Mitchell Energy opts to discontinue processing gas at ExxonMobil’s Katy gas plant, stating that it is an older plant and simply is not as efficient as Mitchell-owned plants. $ Venezuela’s influence in global oil markets takes a step up with the appointment of their oil minister, Ali Rodriguez, to the post of OPEC Secretary General. $ How did the U.S. active rig count compare with the international active rig count at the end of the year 2000, you ask. How about 1,107 U.S. rigs vs 700 international rigs? $ Petrobras claims a 3,000 BOPD discovery in a record-setting 2,000 m of water in the Campos Basin. (Apparently they came up with the new oil-discovery tools that Mr. Link felt they needed.) $ The outgoing Clinton administration leaves the incoming Bush administration with the need for a rapid and decisive response to California’s power problems before that crisis threatens the whole U.S. economy.
U.S. active rig count – 1,128
The Rest of the Yarn
This month, we conclude our look-back at the life and times of Clint Murchison, one of the “Big Four” oilmen who laid the foundations of a flamboyant lifestyle that would come to define the image of Texas Oil.
When his American Liberty partner Dudley Golding died in a plane crash, it not only frightened Murchison away from private planes for several years, but it also triggered an awkward situation with Golding’s widow Georgia. To Murchison’s dismay, Georgia sought to remain active at American Liberty and even insisted on appointing an independent board. Murchison would have none of it and turned to his attorney Toddie Lee Wynne to buy her out. Wynne thus came to own half of the business and its holdings. Their partnership lasted barely six years, and the true reason for its demise was kept a family secret for many years.
According to Murchison’s longtime secretary and authorized biographer, Ernestine Van Buren, Wynne bowed out after suffering a heart attack. However, according to an unofficial biographer, Jane Wolfe, Murchison forced the dissolution after discovering that Wynne had secretly bought a group of Wyoming oil properties, a clear breach of the pair’s gentleman’s agreement to invest together.
When the agreed upon day arrived to dissolve American Liberty and split up its $150 million in assets, like kids choosing up sides on a playground, they decided to take turns selecting the businesses and assets they wanted. They flipped a coin to see who went first, Wynne won, and chose American Liberty’s oil-production division. The process ultimately left Murchison deeply embittered. As president of American Liberty and the one most attuned to its underlying values, Wynne chose wisely, and Murchison felt he did so by misrepresenting some of his own balance sheets. Worst of all to Murchison, Wynne ended up with Matagorda Island. That broke Murchison’s heart. “The biggest mistake of my life,” he told his sons years later, “was giving up Matagorda Island.” Their 1944 breakup left Wynne a very wealthy man who in time would father his own colorful Texas clan. Matagorda Island remained under the Wynne family’s control for decades, leaving Murchison an embittered man but nonetheless wealthy in his own right.
History Quiz
In 1999 there were 26 rigs working in the deepwater (1,000 ft or more water depth) Gulf of Mexico. That number climbed to a record-setting 40 in the year 2000. At the close of the year 2000, how many rigs were working in the 5,000 ft or greater ultradeep water depths? a) 3, b) 7, c) 11, or d) 15?
If you would like to participate in this month’s quiz, e-mail your answer to contest@spe.org by noon January 15. The winner, who will be chosen randomly from all correct answers, will receive a $50 gift card to a nice restaurant.
Answer to December’s Quiz
Due to the fear of explosions, oil was initially not a common cargo on ships. The first successful bulk oil tanker, introduced in 1878, was the Zoroaster.
Answer to November’s Quiz
According to former practitioners of the lost art of water-witching (i.e., divining rod) and as documented in U.S. Geological Survey publications, this purported “foundation of all geophysics” was documented in publications as early as 1532.
Congratulations to November’s winner – Kent Webb with Ridgewood Energy