OIL: Guardian of God's Reservoir

In the pink-and-white Crystal Ballroom of the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas last week, a scholarly man in rimless glasses presided methodically over a meeting of one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the world. He was Ernest O. (for Othmer) Thompson, 61, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, which decides, in effect, how much oil the U.S. shall produce. After a 16-minute meeting, Thompson announced to his audience of 120 oil company lawyers: Texas wells will be allowed only 17 producing days during November.

It was the third straight monthly cutback,...

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