September 1954

Does anyone remember the days when artillery practice was standard operating procedure at oil tank farms? In the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s muzzle-loading cannons, some of Civil War vintage, were actually used to fight tank fires. The idea was so simplistic that an Aggie reportedly came up with it. The cannons were used to shoot a hole through the side of the tank near the water line and let the blazing oil run out into the earthen fire dike to burn itself out harmlessly, preferably before the water in the tank bottom began to boil with explosive results. Wouldn’t you know it that some Longhorns working for Magnolia Petroleum decided that they were going to deploy a more powerful cannon than those Aggies had been using. So they moved in their "Big Bertha" cannon. When their first fire broke out, they fired "Big Bertha" and scored a direct hit very close to the water line on the burning tank. In the midst of high-fiving each other, their supervisor came running over to inform the soon-to-be former Magnolia employees that their "Big Bertha" had fired its cannon ball through both sides of the burning tank and into the tank on the other side of it. (No! I do not make this stuff up.) The nationwide drought conditions have gotten so bad that oil zones are being bypassed to drill for water. In Mattoon, Ill. Carter Oil opts to use city sewage to operate a water flood. (If that oil wasn’t sour before, it soon will be.)

East Texas crude oil - $2.90 per bbl; U.S. rig count – 2,398

September 1979

President Carter endorses the sale by Amerada Hess of 1.5 million bbl of heating oil to Iran to help alleviate their sabotage-caused "refining problem." Industry leaders and state governors question the appropriateness of selling them the heating oil at $0.55 per gallon vs. the $0.90 per gallon that American consumers will soon have to pay. Meanwhile, National Iranian Oil Co. Chief Nazih claims that Iran does not need the fuel and may end up selling it at a profit. (Break out those cannons!) The national average price of unleaded gasoline breaks the $1 per gallon barrier. (What other commercial fluids can you name that have less than doubled in price in the past 25 years?) As the Ixtoc oil spill in the Gulf of Campeche blackens Texas beaches, the word on reparations from the Mexicans is, "No uno peso." Calgary oilmen travel to Moscow to discuss construction of a natural gas line across the Bering Strait from the U.S.S.R. to Alaska. (I bet there were a lot of "eh comrade’s" uttered in those meetings.) Cuba continues to enjoy the U.S.S.R.’s "most favored nation" oil import status, a discounted import position earned by permitting the stationing of Soviet troops on the island. The only other country to enjoy such discounting is Mongolia. (Check the geographic location of Mongolia, and you will understand why.)

U.S. rig count – 2,256

September 1994

The lowest U.S. natural gas prices in 2 years spark continued shut-ins. CNG, Noble Affiliates, Anadarko, Kerr-McGee and even Enron report plans to curtail production. At press time, it was unclear whether the Enron curtailments involved "on-sheet" or "off-sheet" wells. About the same time that Unocal starts clean-up work on its 9,000 bbl kerosene-diesel mix spill under Guadalupe Beach in San Luis Obispo County, Chevron discloses an underground spill in Morro Bay, California. Plans are announced for a massive project to reclaim land from the sea around Singapore and join seven islands into a single land mass to house a huge petrochemical complex. The current lack of land area threatens the growth of Singapore’s burgeoning chemical industry. The project is expected to take 15-20 years to complete and has been named the "Jurong Project." ("Jurong" is Chinese for "Katy Freeway.") The API reports that U.S. oil imports have risen 17.2% from a year ago, while U.S. crude production has fallen 2.9%.

West Texas Intermediate - $16.95 per bbl; Natural Gas - $1.66 per MMBTU; U.S. rig count – 804

September 1999

The degree of upheaval in Venezuela, and in state petroleum giant PDVSA, is reflected in the appointment of Hector Ciavaldini as PDVSA’s third president this year. President Chavez continues in his efforts to "Venezuelanize" PDVSA. The shareholders of both BP Amoco and ARCO vote in favor of BP Amoco’s takeover bid, so more post-merger cutbacks loom. Meanwhile, European authorities appear to be moving toward approval of both the BP Amoco-ARCO and Exxon-Mobil combines. Next up on the merger horizon is TotalFina-Elf. One pipeline company, Colonial Pipeline, takes the ultimate precaution for the Y2K bug, announcing that it will temporarily shut down its main U.S. refined products pipeline for about 8 hr as the new millennium begins.

West Texas Intermediate - $23.01 per bbl; Natural Gas - $2.74 per MMBTU; U.S. rig count - 690

The Rest of the Yarn

One was an eccentric oilman who was the biggest winner in the east Texas oil boom. The other was virtually unknown to the public. One was quoted as saying, "If you know how much money you have, you aren’t very wealthy." The other definitely knew how little money he had. The common thread between the two appears to have been their anti-communism sentiments. One personally bankrolled an anti-communism, anti-gun control, Douglas MacArthur-for-President propagandized radio program that was carried by 400 radio stations, and received the tax exemption given to religious organizations. The other just happened to be a faithful listener. On the day of President Kennedy’s infamous visit to Dallas in 1963, his radio program predicted that Americans would soon not be able to own guns and rise up against oppressors , whether the oppressors were from Moscow or Washington. One of his sons sponsored a full-page anti-Kennedy advertisement in the Dallas Morning News, and was later advised by the FBI to take a trip from Dallas for his own safety. The poorer of the two reportedly visited the office of the richer of the two in Dallas a few days before the Kennedy visit. On the day that Lee Harvey Oswald was fatally wounded, one was reviewing the script for his radio program, while the other was taken into custody and observed to have two scripts of the same radio program in his pocket. Coincidence or not, the lives of H.L. Hunt, Sr. and Jack Ruby will forever be curiously linked. 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 contest@houston.spe.org.