"Our industry has shown a concern for and a dedication to the environment as long as there have been drillers ..."

Our industry has shown a concern for and a dedication to the environment as long as there have been drillers – and long before Al Gore decided that the only way to keep the sky from falling was to tax our productivity in the name of doing the right thing.

For centuries, drillers have sought to discover and exploit our natural resources, unseen and out of reach of the masses. Some of the earliest drilling took place in China for salt. Some of these wells would be deep even by today’s standards. They took years to drill; sometimes generations of drillers worked on the same well. I pity the guy who bid these jobs on a completed price contract, and I sure would have liked to have had the fishing tool contract. Bamboo derricks, hemp drill line, wooden casing with hand-carved threads, but, then as now, they got the well in the ground. They also provided a commodity more valuable than gold. Ever hear the phrase, “worth his salt,” and wonder how it originated? It came from the Roman legions, where salt was a valuable commodity that was issued as part of a man’s pay. If you didn’t live on the beach, salt was a constant supply problem. Drillers solved this problem.

Drillers also discovered and exploited oil – the driving force of modern society. A lot of people will point to the oil industry as one of the most polluting, anti-environmental endeavors of mankind. I beg to differ. In the beginning, there were neither environmental standards nor general concern for the messes we made drilling oil wells. We’ve all seen the old movies where the driller knew he made a well when it blew out and painted everything black. Eventually, drillers figured out that they were wasting a lot of their resources, and if they could keep it under control, they could make a lot more money and a lot less mess. In the early Spindletop days, a blowout a day wasn’t uncommon; now a blowout a year makes national news. They got a handle on it without the cost or interference of the modern environmental movement.

I’ll give you a historical example of environmental stewardship by drillers. In the 1920s and ‘30s, a small oil field was discovered just north of West Columbia, Texas. It was pretty deep for the time, about 6,000 to 8,000 or so feet. It was drilled with steam rigs with wooden derricks. The EPA was not even a glimmer in the eye of Richard Nixon, and safety was abysmal. Men died. The drillers knew they had a well when it blew out and flowed out of control for days. If the lease was big enough, the drillers dug huge reserve pits, and let the oil flow into them, while they frantically tried to sell it as fast as it flowed before the well “died.”

Then they moved over and drilled another one. Eventually, the field produced so much uncontrolled oil that the reserve pits ran over, and the oil flowed south, through town, toward the Brazos River, a distance of 6 miles or 8 miles. The ditches in that area are pretty big and deep, but there was a huge quantity of oil headed for the river. Some of the old timers have told me that, without the noble assistance of Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Al Gore or anyone else, not one drop of oil reached the Brazos River. Free men with wooden barrels and mule wagons dipped up – and sold at a profit thousand of barrels of oil until the drillers figured out how to keep their holes under control. Today, West Columbia is beautiful, clean and shows not a sign of the so-called environmental disaster of yesteryear.

More recently, drillers have discovered and are exploiting a new, environmentally friendly, non-polluting resource – geothermal energy. In certain parts of the world, it was discovered – by drillers – that the earth is hot, near the surface. Drill a hole, pump in water, get steam back, and run a turbine to produce electricity. No carbon dumped in the atmosphere, it is available as long as the core remains hot, and that’ll probably stay hot long after my retirement. It works night and day, rain or shine, much better than all the windmills and solar panels combined, if we’d just take more advantage of it.

One of the problems is that it is not just everywhere. To economically reach the depths required to find “hot rocks,” drillers have had to push the envelope, just as we’ve always done. While we are figuring out these methods, a good stop-gap would be nuclear power, but the Flat Earth Society is not going to stand for anything they don’t understand.

Drillers always have come up with the solutions and solved the problems to produce the resources needed to sustain and grow our society. Remember: If it can’t be grown, it must be drilled for. We now can drill deeper, safer, faster and more profitably than any time in history. If the profit margin is restored, we can continue to access the resources our world provides and our society needs.