Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
List of Illustrations
This book benefits from the contributions of many individuals. Before thanking and acknowledging them, a little background is necessary. In 1998, the president of Shell Oil Company, Phil Carroll, contacted University of Houston oil historian Joseph Pratt about commissioning a history of his company, the U.S. affiliate of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, then the second-largest oil enterprise in the world. Already at work on the history of Amoco, Joe guided the project to me...
In 1956, Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert made a startling prediction. In a presentation before a regional meeting of the American Petroleum Institute in San Antonio, Hubbert estimated that U.S. oil production would peak in 1970. Plotting historical production statistics and his calculations of future production on a bell curve, based on ultimate discoveries of two hundred billion barrels of oil...
1 The Americanization of Shell Oil
The red-and-yellow pecten shell is one of the most universally recognized corporate symbols in the world. It is the emblem of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of companies, often referred to simply as “Shell” or “the Group,” the world’s third-largest industrial organization behind British Petroleum and Exxon-Mobil...
2 Testing the Waters
Royal Dutch/Shell emerged from World War II desperately short of crude oil. It had lost key production in Europe and Asia and failed to obtain equity in the enormous reserves of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. As a partial remedy, the Group negotiated in 1947 the largest long-term purchase contract in the history of the industry to take one-half of Gulf Oil’s Kuwait production...
3 Betting on Technology
In the late 1950s, U.S. oil companies weathered intense competition and mounting difficulties to find oil. The industry was drilling a higher ratio of dry holes to total wells. The average size of new oil fields was decreasing. So was the number of barrels discovered per foot drilled. The search for crude in the United States required deeper wells, as well as expansion into “frontier”...
4 The Trials and Triumphs of Exploration
Compared with any other energy source in the 1960s, oil was cheap. Throughout the decade, the price per barrel of crude in the United States remained in the range of two to three dollars. Import quotas limited the entry of even less expensive foreign oil into the United States and raised relative costs to consumers, but domestic oil producers filled the breach left by reduced imports...
5 The End of Business as Usual
By the early 1970s, a broad front of social movements in the United States—civil rights, women’s rights, environmentalism, labor activism, anti–Vietnam War—challenged politics and business as usual. The OPEC embargo of 1973 and subsequent nationalizations, which restructured the international oil market, magnified the challenge. In the United States, political fallout from...
6 The Offshore Imperative
“There’s a romance about big, offshore structures,” said Pat Dunn, Shell’s manager of civil engineering, back in 1989. “There’s some- thing about seeing them out there on the frontier.”1 Since the time Bouwe Dykstra teamed up with Doc Laborde to build the Mr. Charlie submersible drilling vessel, Shell Oil had carried on a passionate affair with these structures...
7 Deepwater Treasures in a New Era of Oil
The late 1970s and early 1980s were golden years for Shell Oil. Under the leadership of John Bookout, Shell responded to the energy crisis by adopting a corporate strategy almost single-mindedly focused on developing new energy resources in the United States. Although profits on cheaper foreign oil buoyed other major oil companies, Shell outpaced all competitors in the...
Epilogue: The Globalization of Shell Oil
Nineteen ninety-four was a pivotal year for Shell Oil. The company’s deepwater play in the Gulf of Mexico blossomed with the installation of Auger and the spudding of its prolific wells. It appeared that the Gulf, once again, had made the company. The next year, cost-cutting and corporate reforms helped earnings and...
Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 25 line art. 1 b&w photo. 3 maps. 2 charts.
Publication Year: 2009
Series Title: Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History
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