Texas style is catching

Is the go-for-broke “wildcatter” way of thinking still behind today’s Houston-based energy multinationals?

Home to more than 5,000 energy-related firms, Houston is often called the energy capital of the world, a label locals are happy to claim. Indeed, the energy industry is a driving force in the city’s massive economy. 

Many of the industry’s multinational corporations located there also have the city as their global headquarters. Rowan Companies is one of them. Generations asked Vice President -– Projects Jason Montegut whether the local culture contributes to the company’s willingness to take risks.

“Texas does have a bit of that wildcat, be-first-out there-and-get-it-done, attitude, and Rowan, in a way, emulates that,” says Montegut. “Some of the most knowledgeable drilling people, and I can say risk takers, are here.”

While he acknowledges that a “wildcat” style can have a bit of a negative connotation, he explains that Rowan’s interpretation of it is to take carefully calculated risks. 

“There are times we need to get out there and help lead the way, but we do so when we’re comfortable, and that’s certainly passed down through the organization,” says Montegut. 

“Rowan, back in the day, took a land package and put it on some legs and actually created the first jack-up drilling rig,” he says. “Rowan has a history of being out in the front, taking those calculated risks.” 

He points to several other instances as evidence of this at the company – the high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) wells they drill and a jack-up with the world’s first 20,000 psi blowout preventer (BOP), which is now 25,000 – again a world first. 

Montegut joined Rowan in 2011 as part of the establishment of a deepwater department at the company. He remembers that the questions he was asked in its early phase were not about making cuts or eliminating anything in this new area. Instead, he heard: Are we doing everything we can? Are we looking a few years down the road? What are the technologies going to be like then? 

He links this type of careful probing back to the Texas culture. “That’s what we have in Houston, especially being the energy center. It’s either you do that or someone else will, and people understand that, which makes it exciting. There’s certainly nothing mundane about this industry or the city, for that matter.” 

Earlier in his career, Montegut worked for other Texas-headquartered drilling contractors in Indonesia, Korea and Singapore. He feels that the Texas influence remained at the top level of the companies but that it was at times a different story on the ground in some of the foreign countries as a result of slow communication partially diluting the can-do style. He says, “When I first started, we still used carbon paper and had Telexes. E-mail was so slow you’d click the button and then leave the office for the evening while it downloaded.” 

He adds, “Nowadays, everything is so global. It’s instantaneous – you can video conference with anybody around the world at any time, and so I think it’s easier to convey that attitude.” 
But a lot depends on the company says Montegut.  “There are a lot of companies that just get so big, it’s hard to really maintain that can-do attitude and still, at the same time, manage a massive group of culturally diverse and dispersed people.” 

Rowan has been able to keep it small enough and keep in touch with senior management well enough to where you don’t have that dilution,” he explains.  The company’s relationship to risk is key to maintaining its profitability and returning the most back to shareholders, according to Montegut. 

“By highlighting and addressing risk up front, we’re able to take advantage of technology – we’re very in tune with what the advances are and are quick to respond and to act on that. While we’re not typically the first one to jump out there, we follow very closely.” 

Although he feels that the oil industry can be similar around the world, Montegut recognizes the importance of respecting the culture of the host country. He says, “It’s about meshing the various cultures, bringing a westernized type of culture into a lot of countries that, frankly, haven’t seen this kind of expansion or technology. It’s caring about the environment and about the people and the overriding theme of keeping everybody safe – that crosses all borders and boundaries.” 

Photo: Wikipedia

What is a wildcatter?

A person who drills wildcat wells, which are exploration oil wells drilled in areas not known to be oil fields. A famous successful wildcatter was Texan oil tycoon Glenn McCarthy.
The term’s origin comes from Pennsylvania’s Wildcat Hollow, one of the many productive fields in the early oil era. According to tradition, a speculator who risked his luck by drilling in this narrow valley shot a wildcat, had it stuffed and set it atop his derrick. Because the area was largely untested, the term wildcatter was coined, describing a person who risked drilling in an unproven area.

Source: Wikipedia

How Houston became the energy capital

After World War II, Houston developed one of the two largest petrochemical concentrations in the United States, thanks to nearby coastal deposits of salt, sulfur, and natural gas, which were used heavily during the war due to US government contracts. By 1990, around 250 interconnected refineries spread from Corpus Christi, Texas along the coast to the Louisiana border. As a result, the Port of Houston’s main exports and imports were petroleum and petroleum-related products. 

Source: Texas State Historical Association
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