OIL: The Greatest Gamblers

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

"Within the next 30 years," says Author Knowles, "explorers would find almost 10 billion bbl. in its 70,000 square miles. There were more giant oil fields lying under this wasteland than would be found in any other single area in the U.S. . . . The 2,000,000 acres belonging to the University of Texas made it one of the richest universities in the world."

Arrogant and superstitious, Harry Sinclair liked to drill in cemeteries or places where blackjacks grew, created a $700 million empire.* Haroldson L. Hunt, who now commands a $600 million empire, was a professional gambler, writes Author Knowles, who got started in oil with an Arkansas lease that he won in a poker game, struck a 15-million-bbl. field in Louisiana after a poker-playing pal had a dream that it contained oil.

Sound Leads to Science. Life in the oilfields was tough. Following each discovery came hangers-on and prostitutes, phony stock promoters, poker sharps, and battling roughnecks. In Bowlegs, Okla. "a tough braggart was cut to ribbons in a knife fight. Instead of seeking a doctor he drunkenly toured the town pointing to the blood pouring from his wounds. Still boasting of his toughness, he fell dead."

A new era began in the 1920s. Violence passed like a bad tornado. Scientists and statisticians grew to greater importance. Probably the most important geological breakthrough came when Geologist Everette Lee DeGolyer used a reflection seismograph on the Seminole plateau, sending man-made sounds deep into the earth and gauging the echo to find "the rock beds humped up into a little dome which might be a trap for oil." In 1930 the well blew in at 8,000 bbl. a day. "This was the most important well drilled in America since Spindletop; reflection seismograph revolutionized prospecting for oil as completely as Spindletop had done."

Modern prospecting has matured into a science, though man has yet to find a direct method of finding oil. The chances are still long. Only one wildcat field in 42 produces 1,000,000 bbl., and costs are so steep that a million-barrel field barely pays for itself. With risks growing higher and winnings less, fears have cropped up that the U.S., with only a twelve-year known reserve, will run dry of oil. Oilady Knowles disagrees: "Ever since Edwin Drake's discovery 100 years ago, there have been fears of a shortage. Each time the cry of alarm was raised, the explorers' reply was a new wave of discoveries."

*In the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s, Sinclair went to jail for six months for contempt of court and the Senate. Doheny was acquitted of charges to defraud the Government and sold control of his Pan American Petroleum & Transport Co. holdings to Standard of Indiana. The ironic aftermath: instead of producing 130 million bbl. as the U.S. had predicted, Teapot Dome depleted itself after 2,000,000 bbl.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page