Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Side thoughts on brief riches

kw: musings, wealth, motivation

I lived for several years near Ponca City, Oklahoma, when I worked for Conoco. The most famous town landmark is the Marland Mansion, built in 1925 for E. W. Marland, founder of Marland Oil, which became Conoco. This image is from Wikimedia Commons.

I remembered something one can see at the mansion while reading about motivation, a quote by Marland: "Who knows why people do what they do? I spent money like water on my town and my people, and they thrived and prospered."

As is plainly visible, he spent money on himself at a pretty good clip also. So much so that by the time the mansion was finished, he was nearly broke, and never lived in it! He had always wanted to live in a palace. Like Moses and the promised land, he saw it but did not enter in.

There is another quote by him that I find poignant. He was a scientific innovator, and invented a number of the techniques of geophysical prospecting for petroleum. At a speech in, I think, the late 1920s he said (I paraphrase), "We have learned where oil is to be found, and how to find more."

When he was saying this, he did not know that he had already found every drop of oil he was ever to find. All of what we now call "easy oil" had been found. It required further innovations by many scientists to refine the techniques he pioneered so as to see further and more clearly into the earth, then refinements in drilling technology so as to reach the oil once it is found.

At the time I transferred out of Ponca City, the first "deep water tension-leg" drilling platform was installed in 1,500 feet (450 m) of water. It was a technical success, but at then-current oil prices, a commercial failure. Oil prices are now four times higher. Current technology, such as that used for the problematic BP well Deepwater Horizon, allows drilling in water four times as deep. Marland would be impressed. He would not be surprised.

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