Bad Analogies, Oil Companies and the
True Benefit of the HGS
by Steve Brachman
I remember watching Mutual of Omaha’s "Wild Kingdom" with the late Marlin Perkins and his assistant, straight-man and later co-host, Jim Fowler, on Sunday afternoons. Two things about the program remained stuck in my mind over the years. First, the life-threatening fixes Jim would get into and the absurd analogies Marlin would make out of them "... just as that anaconda looked like it would get the best of Jim, so could wrestling with your insurance problems get the best of you. At Mutual of Omaha...") Second, was their bread and butter; "Life and Death on the Serengeti." I think everyone remembers the scene of lions stalking the unsuspecting wildebeest herd in the tall grass, then the chase and the herd bolting in panic, and, finally, the lions (and the camera) focusing in on the laggard with the inevitable gruesome results.
Though I apologize in advance for using "Wild Kingdom" as my own absurd analogy, the Serengeti scene consistently comes to mind when I envision the life and death of energy companies. Paul Babcock, along with his many other duties, helps keep the "HGS Directory of Oil Company Name Changes." This volume commemorates the tumultuous history of companies devouring others until they, in turn, are eaten. But with all of the carnage chronicled by the directory, there does not appear to be a shortage of energy companies. On the contrary, annually the Oil and Gas Journal tracks 500 of the largest. I have been able to unearth lists of up to 1500 companies while searching the Internet. Clearly, the energy industry has shown itself to be strong enough to withstand low product prices, political pressure and corporate upheavals.
While the industry as a whole has been resilient, many of our employers have not. In my own case, I have had a ringside seat as two, Gulf Oil and SOHIO, were devoured by lions, Chevron and BP, respectively. In another case, one of my former employers was sold for its assets, or, to continue the analogy, dismembered by the hyenas and vultures of our industry. But besides listening to "the way we used to do it at Superior" or shedding a sentimental tear for "good old Kewanee Oil," I have come to realize over the past 25 years that such changes are neither good nor bad, but simply the natural order of the corporate world.
This fact, however, does not assuage our own individual angst. The death of our employer may be only a footnote in the Wall Street Journal, but the consequences of a new supervisor, new job description or lay-offs may be cataclysmic on a personal scale. At this point, I have noted that many geoscientists seek solace in the Houston Geological Society. In fact, I would venture to say that this is the predominant purpose for the HGS. According to our bylaws the Houston Geological Society was founded in 1923 to (1) stimulate interest and pro-mote advancement in geology for the Houston area, (2) disseminate and facilitate discussion of geological information and (3) aid and encourage academic training in the science of geology. I would add, "to promote fellowship and support among colleagues." The HGS, as a simple volunteer organization run by geoscientists, has survived hundreds of companies (and who said we make poor managers?). According to my "How do we benefit the member-ship?" theme for 2006-2007, I believe the greatest value of membership in the HGS is that your co-workers and colleagues also belong. Where else can we find others who share our concerns and will always be there when we need them? That seems to me to be a pretty good value for twenty-four bucks a year, which, last time I checked, was a whole lot cheaper than my Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance policy.