My first wife, Gail, was the youngest of a very large south Louisiana family, two brothers and five sisters. This meant I had many brothers and sister-in-laws. Bobby, one of my brother-in-laws, was a drilling contractor at the time, and owned drilling rigs. I’ve known many drilling contractors since then, many whom I count as best friends. They all have several things in common: intelligence, strong opinions, and egos the size of Dallas.
Bobby was the only drilling contractor I knew in those days and seemed very stand-offish to me. I took this to mean that he disliked me, but found out later this wasn’t true. I learned as much as a young geologist working for the now defunct Cities Service Oil Company.
I was an exploration geologist, looking for wildcat deposits of oil and gas in Kansas. The company had just drilled my first well, a dry hole, and I was devastated. I barely talked as Gail and I drove to New Orleans to celebrate some holiday or other, but it was apparent she knew something was wrong. Knowing me pretty well, she also had a good idea what was eating at my gut.
Our first night in Chalmette, Bobby and Mertye asked us to their house for a crawfish boil. Mertye, like her mother Lily, was a wonderful cook, and she and Bobby loved to entertain. They were building a swimming pool in their backyard. Everyone apparently feeling my pain, they somehow contrived to leave me alone, outside by the pool. As stars and a gorgeous moon lighted the south Louisiana sky, Bobby wandered outside and joined me.
“How’s work going?” he asked.
“Okay,” I answered.
“Gail told Mertye you just got your first well drilled.”
“Yeah, well it didn’t turn out too well.”
It was dark in the backyard, Bobby illuminated only by the light of moon and stars. Still, I could see he had a somber expression on his face.
“You know,” he said. “I been in the oil business a long time. Let me tell you a little story. Not long ago, we staked a well for an oil company. When we went to move in the rig, the stake was out in the middle of a bayou. We had orders from the oil company to drill that exact location because that’s where the company geologist said the oil was. Know what I did?”
I shook my head.
“I told the boys to close their eyes, and waded into shallow water, pulled up that stake and moved it to high ground, not more than a hundred feet or so from the original location. Know why?”
I shook my head again.
“Because, if a hundred feet makes that much difference, the prospect ain’t worth drilling in the first place. Hell, Eric, we barely know what to expect a hundred feet below the earth’s surface. There damn sure ain’t a road map 10,000 feet down. What I’m trying to tell you is there’s not a geologist alive, at least one that’s drilled an oil well, that hasn’t drilled a dry hole. If they tell you different, they’re lying.”
Bobby was silent for a moment, and then touched my shoulder. He said, “The world can’t survive without people like you. You’re just a kid and are gonna find lots of oil and gas before you die. Keep your head up and go drill another well.”
We wandered back into the house, back to the party, my spirits uplifted by sage advice from a person I admired and respected. When Gail and I returned to Oklahoma, I took his advice, working up a new prospect and drilling yet a second dry hole. This time, I took a deep breath, remembered his words, and just kept drilling.
Years have passed and I’ve drilled hundreds of wells, far more producers than dry holes. We all have angels in our lives from time to time. That night, so long ago in south Louisiana, Bobby taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. And yes, that night, he was an angel—my angel.