Oil, Black Gold

Texas Tea III

          

               When I was creating the board game TreasureTrove I wanted to touch on our imagination as to various treasures that have been lost, discovered or sought after since time began.  For one person that may be sunken treasure.  Someone else my envision pirate treasure.  Diamonds and gold may be what others dream of acquiring.  I found it necessary to include oil because in reality oil is the greatest natural treasure ever discovered.  No other commodity comes close to its value in terms of wealth.  Players travel the world in search of fabled riches.

            The following is one of the situation cards that gives the player an option to travel to one of several destinations throughout the world in search of oil.

Those points of destination on the game board are shown below.

 

 

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Texas Tea II

       

           The backyard to our home in West Texas has open skies with beautiful morning sunrises and colorful sunsets.  I love to sit on the back porch and watch God’s nature.  I also enjoy catching the morning stars before sunrise.  I had a scare in the fall of 2010 when I thought someone was putting an oil rig in the open field directly behind us.  It sure would have messed up our view. (Please see Texas Tea I)  Fortunately, no oil derrick went up and our cherished view remains intact.  The silly hopes of my wife and I thinking about drilling for oil was just something to lighten the moment.  We wouldn’t have the money, and besides I don’t think you can drill for oil within city limits.  I see some pump jacks bobbing up and down as I drive around town but I dismiss the thought I would ever own one. 

             Nowadays,  I see those wind turbines going up all over the place and stretching for miles.  I don’t know exactly what people are paid to allow even one of those on their land but some of the wind farms I have seen a mere 30 miles from my house are quite extensive.  Some of those same land owners are growing cotton and have pump jacks on them as well.  I don’t own any land so I don’t think about it much.  That was,………….. until a few weeks ago when my wife asked to speak with me for a few minutes.  If you’re like me, you hesitate when your spouse asks for a few minutes.  Does one of the kids need help?  Did the transmission go out?  Are we invited to a party we would rather not go to?  You know all the thoughts that race through your mind.  I took and breath, sat down, and opened my ears. 

               “You know that land in far West Texas near Lubbock on my mother’s side of the family that I sometimes mention.  “Yes, the one that the family no longer owns but supposedly owns the mineral rights to,” I responded.  I added, “the one that we have not heard about in decades and the one we wondered if you were even a part of since your mom passed away almost eight years ago.  The one that possibly could have gone solely to your surviving uncle since her death.”   She smiled and nodded her head as she replied, “Yes, that one.”

            I sarcastically responded, “you mean the one that is the piece of land next to someone else’s land that has had pump jacks bobbinng on it for years.  If there is any oil there, those nearby pump jacks have sucked it all out.  Didn’t your mom say there were some pump jacks right near the fence line and they have been there for years.  If there was any oil it is probably mostly gone by now,” I added. 

            “Could be,” she said.  “My dad said he will be sending a check in the mail soon because an attorney called representing an oil company that wants to lease the mineral rights.”  Her dad is 91 and wants to split the money between my wife and her sister.  He doesn’t need the money.  “Any idea of how much I asked?”  “Probably not a lot,” she giggled, “by the time you divide it up between my uncle’s family and my mom’s.”  I added, “You didn’t answer my question.”  “About eighteen hundred dollars,” she said.  “It won’t be much.  “Is it annually I asked?”   “I think it is for a three year lease,” she said.  “Oh well, still fun to think about,” I told her.  I told her to keep the money and spend it herself.  I know she gives it away to good charities anytime she receives money.  She turns it into a blessing for others.   “By the way, if oil is found do you even get any of the proceeds?” I asked her.  I actually didn’t think she would get any.  To my my surprise she responded, “Yes.”  

          Really?” I asked, with my eyes and ears opening wide at this point.  “Yes, but it doesn’t sound like much,” she admitted.  “The oil company gets 80% of any barrel, and the family gets 20%.  My father would get 37.5% of that and I would get 50% of that.”  If my calculations are right,  and oil is selleing at $100 a barrel, I am guessing  it would be about $3.75 a barrel to my wife.  I have no idea how many barrels are pumped daily but I doubt much will ever come of it.  Still nice to hope though, isn’t it?  It would also be nice to say I own some west Texas crude, excuse me,………….Texas tea.

 

Texas Tea I

           

             It was about 10:30 p.m. as I lay in bed waiting for my wife.  The room was quite as I reflected on the past workday which had gone rather uneventfully: that is good.  I was ready for some sleep.  Suddenly, I thought I heard a boom and a discernable vibration.   I heard rumbling and there was indeed some definite vibration, yet nothing out of the ordinary.  Probably one of the B-1 boomers doing a training run from the nearby Air Base.  They can generate a lot of noise.  My son had two college friends visiting earlier in the TV room and maybe one was showing off a boom box in his car.  The sound was not too strong and it could not be from the train that runs a number of miles away which I can hear but would never shake the house.  The weather had been fine so the tornado possibility was slim.  “Oh well,” I thought, “time to go to sleep.”

            My wife entered the room with a concerned look.  “You need to open the blinds and look outside.”

            Not another fix it problem at bedtime I thought as I arose to open the blinds.  Click……………. “What the heck, the sky is orange,” I said in a confused voice.  I turned slowly around with a concerned look as I faced her.  “That is one big huge flame,” I said.  “I thought I saw some activity behind the trees in the distance yesterday but I wasn’t sure what was going on.  Let’s go outside and take a look.”

            “You don’t think they struck oil do you?” she asked as we stood at our fence.  “No,” I replied, again with a concerned voice.  “There is no way they could have drilled that deep, they would have to have a derrick.  Maybe they hit a gas pocket in their initial drilling.  There goes our West Texas view,” I continued.  “I never dreamed they could drill this close to city limits. That is actually less than 300 yards away and if there is oil, maybe we can drill in our back yard. That is one big ball of fire.  I can even feel the heat.”

           “Well,” she said, “some of our friends in the country have learned to adjust to those huge wind turbines so maybe we can learn to live with this.”  There was a sad look on her face.  She added, “My dad always wanted a pumpjack in the family.”  She was trying to be cute:  I was trying to smile.  We both love our backyard view of Texas sunsets and morning sunrises.  I went inside to grab the camera.

            After a few minutes of gawking and listening to the hiss of the burning gas I ventured, “I’m going to walk over there.”  I was somewhat concerned about rattlers.  Our next door neighbor had been bit by one last week and spent a night in the hospital.  I thought to myself, if I were a snake, I would be scooting away from there and towards us as fast as I could.  “Are you sure you wnt to walf across that field?” she replied.  I responded, “On second thought maybe it would be better to go for a quick drive over there.”

            There was the usual line of big pickups you would expect as we approached the flame.  Actually there were three tall pipes dispensing a flame.  I exited the vehicle.  As I approached in my shorts with camera in hand it was quite obvious I was not one of the working crew.  One of the hardhats asked me if I was OK.  “Doing fine,” I sheepishly retorted.  I then quickly realized this was no drilling rig but a crew laying a gas pipeline under the highway.  All was safe and under control.  No one hurt.  A sense of relief came over me.  I knew I would have my view back in a couple of days.  As we drove home I wondered just where that pipeline would be going. 

            The unfortunate reality is the possibility of a subdivision of homes may soon be going up.  If so, I will learn to adjust.  In the meantime I told the Lord, “I sure am going to enjoy the open skies while it lasts, along with a glass of iced tea.”  I guess I have to wait another day to hit my gusher of black gold, that is, Texas tea.

           Footnote:  Please follow up with Texas Tea II

Black Gold

 

 

     The recent oil spill in the Gulf is certainly unwanted news.  It is tragic news for those in the region whose livelihood depend on the coastal waters for fishing and tourism.  I still recall back in 1979 a ruptured oil pipe on a derrick off of Mexico’s shores.  My kids and I have been going to the Texas coast annually since 1985 and it seemed for years we had tar balls.  They were a mess to get of your feet and the oil stains were impossible to get out of our beach clothing.  Unfortunately, it looks like the dreaded tar balls will be coming back.  I do not know of any bright side to this story.  I was happy it did not happen during hurricane season thus hampering any repair and recovery efforts. 

     I have always been impressed with American ingenuity in creating technologies that can explore for oil in difficult terrain such as the deep ocean.  I was also pleased with the ability of American oilmen to cap all the wells that were set ablaze by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War.  I therefore was a little disappointed when the oil industry implied it had not totally prepared for a blowout this deep in the ocean.  I suspect they had some contingency plans but now wish they had available more plans with which to try.  I think they waited until disaster struck before giving it too much thought.  Probably being a corporation they chose not to invest the necessary money in order to research such scenarios.  Most big cooperations need to make money: now and fast.  Research often does not immediately produce money so I suspect not a lot of financial resources were put towards that.  If 10 million, even 50 or 100 million had been used to study how to react in this type of situation it probably could have saved billions in the long run.  I admit I do not know much about the oil industry or corporate America but my perception is they could do better.  They waited until there was a big problem before dealing with it.  Most of us buy all kinds of insurance in case the unexpected accident happens and it actually takes a noticeable portion of our incomes.  Would it not be prudent for large companies to spend money preparing for the unexpected, just like you and I?

       I wish British Petroleum the best.  They will be going through some rough times.  Do I want offshore drilling stopped?   

North American portion of the game board

       No, I still need to drive my car and I cannot afford an electric car yet.  I actually do look forward to the day when we need less oil.  However, at the present time I still need the oil industry.  I hope they can clean up their act though.

     When I created the board game Treasure Trove I included a number of ways to acquire wealth: lost pirate treasure, sunken ships, gold crowns, diamonds, coins, and secret libraries.  I also included the search for oil( black gold).  I hesitated to include oil in the game because it can have a negative image, yet the truth is that oil is the greatest natural treasure ever known.  I kept oil limited in the game as it is only one of many ways to find treasure.  The monetary reward a player receives for getting black gold is not due to finding oil but for inventing technology to help the oil industry.  The player who lands on the Black Gold space on the game board receives the miniature pump jack valued at 10 million.  The instructional booklet for the game gives a brief description of each of the 16 treasure spaces.  The description for Black Gold reads as follows:

 ” Your engineering skills and concern for the environment are rewarded when you develop and    patent technology to  help oil pipelines withstand rupturing during earthquakes.  The royalties are as good as gold.”           Value:  10 Million

Black Gold treasure piece

 

       I live in West Texas, land of the pump jacks.  I have often wished I could say I owned just one of them.   I don’t think it will ever happen.  I also think it would be cool to have the mind of an engineer that can create or in this situation fix something.  Their services would easily be worth 10 million.  I’m assuming British Petroleum is in search of a few good engineers at the moment.  We all would be indebted for the   help of a few good engineers.

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The Big Rich

 

            I enjoyed a good read this past week called The Big Rich, written by Bryan Burrough.  I am not a fast reader but I do love history books, especially ones about Texas history.  I remember how much I enjoyed having to take Texas history in the 7th grade and I have been hooked ever since.

            The book chronicles the history of four prominent Texas oil families who were at the beginning of oil discovery in Texas in the early 20th century.  These families acquired vast fortunes.  Unfortunately much of the wealth was eventually lost by the close of that same century.  I used to enjoy watching the 1980’s TV show, Dallas, but doubted people actually lived like JR Ewing.  Well, Mr. Burrough does a nice job of revealing just how independent and rough-living some of the wildcatters really were.  They made the sex charades of JR look quite tame.  I suppose some people have a risk gene that enables them to gamble their last bit of money on one more business venture or in this case a possible “gusher.”   I read that movie stars, great athletes, and many prominent politicians also have this same “go for it,” and “I’ll deal with the results later,” attitude.  They want to experience life to the fullest at the moment.  Unfortunately, it often spills over into other areas of their lives resulting in gambling, drugs and sex adventures.  These personalities also seem to intrigue us, and I think The Big Rich did a good job of revealing the lives of these families.

            The author mentioned traveling to a West Texas location where an individual can turn 360 degrees in any direction and see pump jacks bobbing up and down as far as you can see.  I have been to that, very spot.  It is near Kermit, TX. 

I had just stopped in a little town called Wink to visit a small museum dedicated to one of its famous persons, the singer Roy Orbison.  Pretty Woman is one of his songs you might recognize.  As I drove out of Wink I anxiously sought to see desert scenery like out of the Arabian Desert.  The remote open spaces of West Texas, some with actual sand dunes have always fascinated me.  Just outside of Kermit I found the sand dunes.  I also discovered the pump jacks.  I stopped the car and just sat there amazed. 

                                      The Texas oil man that opened this area to drilling went on to become one of the richest people in America.  He was not alone.  Other Texas oilmen who discovered their riches in the East Texas oil fields and those near the gulf also amassed fortunes.  By the middle of the 20th century four of America’s top ten wealthy were Texas oilmen.  It would not last.  By the turn of the 21st century the wealthiest were hi-tech creators, Wal-Mart heirs and financial investors.  Oil tycoons are no longer even in the top 25.  So what happened to the money from these families?

Some of the families eventually gave millions away helping establish hospitals, schools, supporting communities and so forth.  On the other hand some families ventured into costly, risky, sometimes questionable legitimate investments that ended up losing much of their families fortunes.  Was oil good for these Texas families or for that matter Texas?

The book does a good job of making you wonder if Texas has handled its wealth wisely.  A wealth that is no longer as easy to come by as it was in the last century.  I believe oil helped bring industry to Texas and thereby fueled the growth of cities such as Houston, Dallas, Midland, Odessa, and numerous others. One lasting effect of Texas oil money according to the book was its affect on American politics.  Money has always had a hand in Washington and it was no surprise to me that it helped Lyndon Johnson’s political career.  However, I did not realize it was Texas oil money that helped finance religious and conservative radio programs beginning in the 1950’s.  In time these movements began to influence the right wing of the Republican Party which still has repercussions today.  The book does a good job of chronicling this.  Whether that is good or bad is probably dependant on each individual’s political perspective.

I have asked myself  if Texas is better because of oil.  The book sort of challenged me to ask this question.  I was born in Texas and have lived here most of my life. Well, I think it has helped us.  I also do not think we have necessarily managed our wealth as well as we should have.  But then again I see wealth from a different perspective.  I have visited over a dozen countries and over two dozen states and have met decent people everywhere.  I also think Texas has been blessed with many, many decent people.  That is what I see as the true treasure of Texas.  They are what make Texas a great state.  Unfortunately, the book did not touch on that much.

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