May 1961
What would you say would be the toughest thing to steal in the oil patch? How about an oil well? A brazen gang of well-equipped thieves with time and technical know-how pulled it off in eastern Oklahoma. The thieves took 1,400 ft of 4 1/2” casing, 2” tubing, and 5/8” sucker rods, a pumping unit, two 100-bbl tanks, two separators, the engine powering the pump, a gas regulator, all the lines and connections to the tanks, the wellhead, along with some extra pipe and fittings. If you think you know how they managed to get away with this, raise your hand. If you guessed it was a repossession, you get to take the rest of the day off. $ This month is the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s monumental decision that Standard Oil is an illegal trust, monopoly, or combination, and thereby decreed its dissolution.
East Texas crude oil - $3.25/bbl; U.S. active rig count – 1,775

May 1986
Mobil Corp. comes up with its own version of the “poison pill” by giving holders of each common share preferred share purchase rights. The rights take effect if anyone acquires 20% or more of Mobil’s common stock or tenders for 30% or more of the stock. $ Elf reports drilling its first horizontal well through unconsolidated sands a few meters thick, a 1,148 ft lateral in the Paris Basin. $ President Reagan orders Marathon, Occidental Amerada Hess, Grace Petroleum, and Conoco to end operations and sell their Libyan assets within 60 days. (déjà vous?) $ The rotary rig count in North America sets a post-war low with 866 active rigs combined in the U.S. and Canada.
U.S. active rig count – 828

May 2001
New Mexican President Vicente Fox approves a variety of petroleum industry projects designed to elevate oil and gas production, including the expansion of the Cantarell offshore complex which includes a platform being constructed by a joint venture between a Mexican shipyard and Enron Offshore Services and Technology. (Up they pop again!) $ China follows the U.S. model and reports plans to build a strategic oil supply over the next five years. $ As expected, the International Maritime Organization approves a global timetable that would phase out single-hull crude tankers by the year 2015. $ Brazil’s federal environmental agency fines Petrobras $10 million for oil spills from two platforms in the Campos Basin, one being the oft-photographed P-36 semisubmersible production platform that listed and ultimately sank after a series of blasts that killed 10 workers.
Light sweet crude oil - $28.09/bbl; Natural gas - $4.27/MMbtu; U.S. active rig count – 1,232

The Rest of the Yarn
This month we continue our look-back at the life and times of Sid Richardson, one of the “Big Four” oilmen who laid the foundations of a flamboyant lifestyle that would come to define the image of Texas Oil.

Richardson began his oilfield experience in 1911 as a laborer, hauling pipe by day and apprenticing on derrick floors by night, likely in the Elektra field west of Fort Worth. In one of his favorite stories during this period of time, Sid claims to have been working alone one night shoveling coal into a derrick furnace, when he was suddenly surrounded by coyotes. He reportedly spent the hours until dawn atop the red-hot furnace, hopping from one foot to the other, until rescued by the arrival of day-shift workers. Shortly thereafter, his education attracted some notice, and he was hired as an office boy for the Oil Well Supply Company in Wichita Falls. This job came to an abrupt end after engaging in a fistfight with a bookkeeper. The fight somehow impressed one of his boss, however, who decided to send him back out to the field as an oil scout in Louisiana. Since oil scouts spent their days driving from well to well, checking production trends, gauging competitors’ strategies, and picking up rumors, it was a job where his adeptness as a natural raconteur came in very handy.

A career in oil was not really Richardson’s dream as a young man. What he really wanted to do was to trade cattle. After two years in the oil fields, he returned to Athens in 1914, borrowing money from Clint Murchison’s father to purchase a herd. This venture did not last long. As Sid told a Fort Worth newspaper reporter, his herd died of tick fever and he lost a toe as a result of his cattle ranching experience. What’s more, he now owed Clint Murchison’s father six thousand dollars. He decided to go back to Wichita Falls and make another try at the oil business.

In his return to the oil business, he decided to try his hand at oil trading. He tells the story of returning to Athens shortly after experiencing some success as an oil trader. He claims to have entered the town square behind the wheel of a new Cadillac and circled the square twice so everyone would see him. He then marched into the bank, where he repaid Mr. Murchison his money in cash, to the amazement of all the townspeople. Many of the men that observed his flamboyance decided then and there that if this ne’r-do-well could make so much money in the oil business, by golly they were going to give it a go themselves. One of those who was suitably impressed was the young Clint Murchison.

Next issue, Richardson and Murchison join forces. (Article excerpted from “The Big Rich.”)

History Quiz
Prior to the mid-70’s when the Bureau of Mines demonstrated that coal beds can yield substantial quantities of pipeline-quality natural gas, U.S. coal mines were venting approximately what volume of natural gas to the atmosphere: a) 50 MMcfd, b) 100 MMcfd, c) 200 MMcfd, or 500 MMcfd?

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

Answer to April’s Quiz
The two critical wartime commodities that were targeted for expanded production thanks to Standard Oil’s development of the first fluid catalyst refining unit in 1942 were 100-octane aviation gasoline and the raw materials required for the manufacture of synthetic rubber.

Answer to March’s Quiz
The German immigrant who funded the building of the first commercial American-built diesel engine was Adolphus Busch.

Congratulations to March’s winner – Lalit Karlapalem with National Oilwell Varco.