November 1950
As was the practice in the Oklahoma oil patch in the 1950’s, it’s time to determine if it’s going to be a cold winter, namely, observe how many nuts the squirrels are gathering and how tight the bark is on the trees. $ Two naming debates rage on in the industry, namely, the proper contemporary term for the aromatic hydrocarbon…benzene, benzine, or benzol, and the proper name for the oil field in Scurry County, Texas…Kelly-Snyder ( in honor of the discovery well the Magnolia Kelly #1) or Kelley-Snyder (in honor of the Magnolia geologist Kelley). As we now know the verdicts were benzene and Kelly-Snyder. $ What would you guess would be the public’s impression of the oil industry as per a public opinion poll run in 1950, favorable or unfavorable? Would you believe 72% voted favorable. (We would probably not fare quite as well if that poll were taken today.)
East Texas crude oil - $2.65/bbl

November 1970
Atlantic Richfield reaches a settlement with Algeria’s Sonatrach over the Sinclair Mediterranean properties seized in 1967, while Venezuela’s Finance Minister reports his government is studying the possibilities of applying higher taxes to oil companies. (In-grate’s, both of them!) $ Montana’s Williston Basin is a buzz about a record-breaking 4,044 b/d Red River Ordovician producer in Richland County, while the first oil and the first gas production are reported in Northwest Alabama in Lamar County. $ “Shoot on sight” orders are issued to guards aboard Israeli oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, as sources report that the Palestinian Liberation Front intends to attempt hijacking or sabotaging Persian Gulf tankers carrying oil to Western nations.
U.S. active rig count – 1,053

November 1990
Saddam Hussein sacks his longtime Oil Minister Isam al-Chalabi, replacing him with his son-in-law Hussein Kamel. Al-Chalabi is credited with negotiating Iraq back into the OPEC mainstream with production quotas at parity with Iran. $ After a fishing boat strikes an exposed gas pipeline, Congress passes a bill requiring pipeline companies to inspect and rebury any pipelines exposed by seabottom currents. $ Japan reports plans to cut its dependence on imported crude by more than 20% by 2010. (Don’t think they are going to make it.) $ Mexico will reportedly net $8.9 billion in 1990 oil revenues vs. a budgeted $5.8 billion. (My how depletion without equivalent replacement has changed their current prospects.)
Light sweet crude oil - $33.86/bbl; U.S. active rig count – 1,144


The Rest of the Yarn
We continue our look-back this month 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.

Murchison was among the first oilmen to begin traveling by private plane, a twin-engine four-seater that took off and landed on the old polo fields. He was among the first in Dallas to dig a swimming pool, an Olympic-size model that when finished in 1930 served as the focus of his entertaining, with a haunch of beef or a goat being grilled on a spit by the cabana.

He adored his sons and paid tuition for them to attend public schools in University Park; most days arriving at school in a chauffeur-driven Pierce Arrow. Weeknights they all piled into one big bed together with their father, who swore that he wouldn’t remarry until they were grown.

In time Murchison began itching for more land, a place where he and his pals could hunt and fish. In 1933 he was trolling for tarpon in the Gulf when he noticed Matagorda Island, a thirty-eight mile long sandbar that lined the coast southwest of Houston. At the time, its eastern half was a wildlife refuge abounding with shore birds, white-tail deer, and rabbits. The western half was a sheep ranch, and Murchison hit on the idea of turning it into a personal retreat. His company, American Liberty, bought it in 1933. Construction on his compound began immediately. Because there was no causeway to the mainland, building materials were ferried to the island by barge. By 1936 Murchison’s new spread was complete, with a water tower, servant’s quarters, a clubhouse lined with bunks for thirty-five men, and a large veranda facing the beach.

All in all, Murchison’s was a splendid life, especially considering how most Americans endured the Depression. But it was certainly not free of sadness. On a chilly morning at Preston Road farm in April 1936, his youngest son, ten-year-old Burk, went out to check his animal traps and slipped and fell into a creek. He went to school in wet clothes and by the next day had developed a high fever. By the time Murchison arrived home from a business trip, he had developed pneumonia. He was rushed to a hospital but died on April 11 and was buried beside his mother in Athens. Murchison was devastated, and friends claim that they never heard anyone mention Burk’s name around Clint for the rest of his life.

Next month, the “Big House” burns to the ground and Clint rebuilds with a house like none other, he meets his dream girl, and troubles develop within American Liberty. (Article excerpted from “The Big Rich.”)


History 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: a) 1532, b) 1608, c) 1740, or d) 1817?

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

Answer to October’s Quiz
Of the four E&P companies listed, namely Amoco, BP America, Phillips Petroleum, and Conoco, only Conoco failed to make the industry’s top ten in total assets in either 1988 or 1989.

Answer to September’s Quiz
In September 1970, there were 45 “super deep” wells being drilled at one time in the U.S., and the county and state in which the most “super deep” wells were being drilled at that time was Pecos County, Texas.

Congratulations to September’s winner – Dave Kinison, Kingwood (only entry with correct number of “super deep” wells being drilled at that time)