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Offshore Imperative

Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America

By Tyler Priest

Publication Year: 2009

 “. . . tells a dramatic story of imaginative businessmen and engineers who propelled Shell forward in the search for ways to locate and recover oil from the depths of the sea.”—Southwestern Historical Quarterly    “This book clarifies some of the concerns that are specific to a company like Shell and shows how information acquisition and processing provided the company with a tangible competitive advantage.”—Business History Review    “This book’s narrative is sustained throughout by easily understood explanations of the technical details of drilling and production.”—Journal of Southern History 

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

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...

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pp. 1-10

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...

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1 The Americanization of Shell Oil

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pp. 11-28

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...

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2 Testing the Waters

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pp. 29-72

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...

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3 Betting on Technology

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pp. 73-104

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”...

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4 The Trials and Triumphs of Exploration

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pp. 105-136

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...

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5 The End of Business as Usual

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pp. 137-179

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...

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6 The Offshore Imperative

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pp. 180-226

“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...

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7 Deepwater Treasures in a New Era of Oil

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pp. 227-264

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...

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Epilogue: The Globalization of Shell Oil

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pp. 265-282

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...


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pp. 283-298


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pp. 299-304


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pp. 305-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781603442725
E-ISBN-10: 1603442723
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603441568
Print-ISBN-10: 1603441565

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