Francis X. Bostic

Duration: 59Mins 55Secs
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Interview with: Francis X. Bostick
Interviewed by: David Courtwright
Date: April 14, 1976
Archive Number: OH 207.1


Interviewer
0:00:11.6 Mr. Bostick, where were you born?

Francis X. Bostick
I was born in Amite, Louisiana, December the 3rd, 1896.

Interviewer
When did you first come to Texas?

Francis X. Bostick
I came to Texas in 1927.

Interviewer
How did you become interested in petroleum geology?

Francis X. Bostick
My great-uncle, Dr. Dumble, was a geologist, and he got me to take up geology and paleontology.

Interviewer
Where did you study?

Francis X. Bostick
I studied at University of California and finished there in 1921.

Interviewer
Was it an academic interest, or were you thinking about the oil business when you started?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, I was thinking about the oil business, because Dr. Dumble was the petroleum geologist for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Interviewer
Were they exploring in Texas at this time?

Francis X. Bostick
0:01:29.2 Yes, they had been for a number of years, and they’d just brought in big wells in the Elk Hills of California.

Interviewer
Was that a common practice for railroads to have their own geologists for oil exploration?

Francis X. Bostick
For Southern Pacific it was. I don’t know about the other companies.

Interviewer
So, what was your first job connected with petroleum?

Francis X. Bostick
My first job, of course, was in California under Dr. Dumble. In 1921, I went with the Standard Oil Company of Louisiana which was a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. I went with them in 1921.

Interviewer
And you were working in Louisiana at first?

Francis X. Bostick
In Louisiana at first. Later, I went with the Southern Crude Oil Purchasing Company which was a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. Later, it became the Standlin Oil and Gas Company and moved to Tyler, Texas before the East Texas field came in to do geological work there.

Interviewer
At that time, did anyone suspect that the Texas fields, specifically the fields in East Texas, would prove as rich as they did?

Francis X. Bostick
0:02:54.6 No, they didn’t. They thought they would be similar to Mexia and Powell, and we did not expect it to extend over such a great area. But we did suspect that oil was there, and long before Joiner brought in his first well, we had leased—that is, the Southern Crude Oil Purchasing Company—about 4,000 acres near the town of Overton. The Humble Oil Company had a big block at New London. That was in 1927.

Interviewer
What sort of techniques did you use in those days?

Francis X. Bostick
That was surface work, I was doing surface work, and we did refraction geophysics, but not with very much success at that time.

Interviewer
I’d be very much interested in your comments on how the tools of the petroleum geologist have evolved over time. What were some of the major breakthroughs?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, a major breakthrough was reflection seismic and then the gravity meter.

Interviewer
When did these first come into common usage?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, before the gravity meter, it was a torsional balance. When I first came to Houston and interviewed all the leading geologists here, they told me it wasn’t any use coming down to Houston, that it’d already been found. But they were just doing spot geophysics and gravity work. I conceived the idea that we should do it blanket, that is, make a gravity of the whole area, and by so doing we found a whole lot of fields, and that is with the Standlin Oil and Gas Company. That was a big breakthrough, this big boom after they had found all the shallow domes.

Interviewer
So, people were just basically looking for salt domes, and they weren’t worrying about the whole terrain?

Francis X. Bostick
That’s right.

Interviewer
What time did you first come to Houston? This was when?

Francis X. Bostick
This was in 1929.

Interviewer
0:05:42.8 What was it specifically that brought you to Houston? Just to look at some (inaudible; speaking simultaneously) down?

Francis X. Bostick
We wanted to expand, and the company appointed me as chief geologist for the Houston area to look for new production on the Gulf Coast.

Interviewer
When did the seismic techniques first become prominent? Was that during the ‘30s?

Francis X. Bostick
That is the reflection seismic in the 1930s, yes. Early ‘30s.

Interviewer
Now, taking a blanket study is quite a task. Is there really any such thing as an independent geologist anymore? Is it possible to do this work on your own?

Francis X. Bostick
Only subsurface, and unless you have the geophysical information it’s rather difficult.

Interviewer
Did geologists cooperate in those days?

Francis X. Bostick
They used to cooperate. They don’t anymore.

Interviewer
Oh, why not?

Francis X. Bostick
I don’t know. Probably the companies don’t want them to.

Interviewer
0:07:18.6 So, there was a good deal of trading of core samples and geological information, but that doesn’t happen anymore?

Francis X. Bostick
No, sir. It doesn’t happen. Everything is kept pretty secret.

Interviewer
Your occupation right now is that of a consulting geologist, is that correct?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
How does that differ from a field geologist or an office geologist working for a company?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, what I’m trying to do now is go over all the old work that was done and reinterpret it and reinterpret lots of geophysical work, and then in turn the people I do the research work for, it’s turned to them. Then I get an interest in what I find.
Interviewer
So, the land has been gone over many times, and it’s just bringing together all this data?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes, but that reminds me of what the leading geologists in Houston with the major companies told me back in 1929 that all the oil had been found on the Gulf Coast. Well, I didn’t believe it, and I don’t believe it now.

Interviewer
Did you continue with the same company during the 1930s, 1940s?

Francis X. Bostick
0:09:02.9 I left the Standlin in 1932 and went with Glenn McCarthy. I have been doing work for him ever since.

Interviewer
How did you meet McCarthy at that time?

Francis X. Bostick
I was doing evaluation work for the First National Bank, and he applied for a loan, and I made the first evaluation for him, and then he got me to go to work for him.

Interviewer
1932 was just about when he started out, wasn’t it?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
So, how was it to work for a wildcatter? What were the advantages or disadvantages of that from the standpoint of a geologist?

Francis X. Bostick
I don’t know exactly what you meant there.

Interviewer
Was it difficult working with a wildcatter instead of with a company?

Francis X. Bostick
No, that’s just what I wanted because it gave me a free hand to do all the research and exploration work I wanted to. It was the best thing to do at that time.

Interviewer
And also to explore where the other oil companies had given up?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
0:10:25.7 So, what were some of the first wells that you brought in, or wells that have been brought in because of your work?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, the Winnie, Blue Lake, Collins Lake, that is, West McCarthy. Then before that, with the Standlin Oil, the Hastings, North Houston, and several others in Southwest Texas.

Interviewer
Which of those were the most memorable? I know that’s not a fair question, but I’ll ask it.

Francis X. Bostick
Well, I’ll go back, and I think Cady was because we found Cady with the Standlin, and at that time gas wasn’t worth anything. We drilled the first well there and got a big gas well, and the company said, “Abandon it.” Which we did, and then I went to work for the Houston Oil Company, which I didn’t mention, for a couple of years, and I got them to lease 640 acres which was open in the middle of the field, and that put them on the inside of the gas business.

Interviewer
So when did gas first become profitable? Worthwhile?

Francis X. Bostick
Not until recent years, because we were selling gas, that is, from McCarthy’s wells at half a cent a thousand to Dow Chemical Company. That was in about 1933.

Interviewer
I want to get into the question of the economics of the oil business and government regulation a little bit later. I’m going to ask you a few other questions about the life of a geologist, first. Do you have a kind of a batting average or a reputation? How does a geologist become established? Is it strictly on the number of wells that he has discovered?

Francis X. Bostick
0:13:03.7 Well, I don’t know. I just don’t know that. There’s lots of geologists like to turn down everything, because it’s easier; particularly a major company geologist.

Interviewer
To play it safe.

Francis X. Bostick
They play it safe, because the chance of opening a new field or bringing in a wildcat is not over 1 out of 10, at least.

Interviewer
How are you paid? Are you on a straight salary?

Francis X. Bostick
At present I’m not on a straight salary. I, of course, have my royalty interests everywhere, and I do research work and anything I find, then I charge for it if it’s accepted.

Interviewer
I was just thinking of a wildcatter; if he brings in a well, he makes a lot of money. If he doesn’t, he’s broke. I was wondering if the life of a geologist had peaks and valleys like that?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes, it does, particularly in the independent work.

Interviewer
So, with McCarthy did you work on a percentage basis?

Francis X. Bostick
No, I worked for McCarthy on a straight salary. Then I went into evaluation work almost entirely and it was quite remunerative.

Interviewer
When you worked with McCarthy, did you spend most of your time in the field?

Francis X. Bostick
0:14:32.9 About 50/50.

Interviewer
About 50/50. So, there’s—I was wondering, I had read that there was a distinction between a field geologist and an office geologist, someone who studied the maps in his office and someone who went out to the field and did the work, but you didn’t find that true?

Francis X. Bostick
No, at that time, we didn’t mind working 7 days a week and sometimes 24 hours a day.

Interviewer
Did you have oil fever?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, I like to find it. It always gave me a thrill to find a new field or see a well come in.

Interviewer
That’s supposed to be the best time, right?

Francis X. Bostick
Oh, yes.

Interviewer
Right before you’re either gonna hit sand or get oil, I guess.
Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
So, you’ve worked with McCarthy for how many years now, altogether?

Francis X. Bostick
Since 1931, I think, ’31 or ’32.

Interviewer
But your work with him has been punctuated with work with other people?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
0:15:45.4 You’ve been on and off. Did you go with him to Venezuela?

Francis X. Bostick
No, I went with him down to the Argentine.

Interviewer
That was when?

Francis X. Bostick
I don’t know just exactly, but it must have been about 1942; somewhere along in there.

Interviewer
But most of your work has been domestic?

Francis X. Bostick
No, I’ve done work practically all over South America and some in Cuba, and Louisiana and Mississippi, Florida, and Missouri and Kansas. Canada. Just all over. Just any place. California.

Interviewer
Were there any difficulties, peculiarities in working in South America?

Francis X. Bostick
No, I didn’t find it other than it was hard to get information.

Interviewer
0:16:57.0 In what sense? Information from the government?

Francis X. Bostick
From the government, yes, and from the government-operated companies.

Interviewer
How about offshore drilling? Have you been involved in that?

Francis X. Bostick
I drilled 1 well offshore, and that’s all.

Interviewer
Did it produce?

Francis X. Bostick
They abandoned the well. It was, let’s see—can you cut it off for a second?

0:17:31.6 (break in audio)

Francis X. Bostick
We drilled 1 well offshore with George Bush and tested a rig, and he wanted to move that rig to Sumatra. So, he abandoned the well. Later, another company came in there and opened a big gas field.

Interviewer
Is offshore drilling a really specialized branch of petroleum geology?

Francis X. Bostick
The most specialized. That is, not even from a geological standpoint but from a mechanical standpoint.

Interviewer
When did that first drilling get off of the ground—offshore drilling, that is? When did that first become a very profitable business?

Francis X. Bostick
0:18:43.3 Well, it all depends on what you call offshore. They were drilling just by sinking a barge down on an island that they would build up with shell and all, but that was, oh, pretty early. That was back about in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s. But after that, they started to building these platforms.

Interviewer
Did independents, wildcatters like McCarthy, ever have anything to do with offshore drilling or was that pretty much a company operation?

Francis X. Bostick
That’s almost wholly a company operation, and now it’s joint company operations.

Interviewer
Because of the capital involved?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
Do you think the day of the wildcatter is about over?

Francis X. Bostick
It is until the government raises the price, because it’s not economic to drill a well now for the price you can get, because if you get a dry hole, and if they take 10 years to charge off intangibles and all, he’s broke.

Interviewer
Yeah, and then the depletion allowances are problematic.

Francis X. Bostick
And depletion allowance. No depletion allowance in a few years.

Interviewer
Have you been occasionally frustrated by the government policies towards oil?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes, particularly during World War II. I noticed that they hired so many people that didn’t know what they were talking about, and it looks like they have the same type now.

Interviewer
Hired into the bureaucracy or what?

Francis X. Bostick
0:20:27.8 Yes. They were working for the government at that time, and the bureaucrats would just do what they want to, and they don’t listen to engineering at all.

Interviewer
Do you have any specific examples in mind, any time when you personally were fouled up by someone doing this?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, they didn’t foul me up. It’s just what I read, because I always stuck to geology and evaluation.

Interviewer
But a geologist, his responsibility is not only to find oil and gas, but to find profitable oil and gas. So, you have to think about the economics involved.

Francis X. Bostick
That’s right. You have to think about that first. Because you take offshore oil, for instance, I know several places that I evaluated, the oil wells were producing 500 barrels a day, but it wouldn’t pay to go out there. For the price of oil and your expenses and all, it wouldn’t be economic at all.

Interviewer
Did you ever pass up any gas wells for the same reason? You gave one example earlier of the gas well you abandoned.

Francis X. Bostick
Oh yes, back in the early ‘30s or in late ‘20s, a gas well was just (unintelligible). You’d just plug it. If you weren’t right on the line, well, you couldn’t sell it, and it wasn’t economic to build a long pipeline, because the best price you could get wouldn’t be over 10 cents a thousand.

Interviewer
0:22:21.5 Was that another factor you considered, the proximity of the field to a pipeline?

Francis X. Bostick
Oh, yes.

Interviewer
So, even though you might have promising seismic results, you might not drill because it was not close to the pipeline?

Francis X. Bostick
No, you wouldn’t do that because you could haul the oil, but you couldn’t haul gas. You’d have had to have a pipeline.

Interviewer
Right, so it was strictly gas. Once you figured the spot where a trap might be located, how do you decide the exact location of the rig?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, at the most optimum point on the structures that you have.

Interviewer
The most level place?

Francis X. Bostick
No, the highest place on the structure. You would call that the ‘optimum point.’

Interviewer
Do you ever put down more than 1 hole once you’ve found a field, or do you just always start out with 1 rig?

Francis X. Bostick
No, you start out with 1 rig, and then you wait ‘til you see what it does. If the wildcat comes in then you may move in several rigs.

Interviewer
When you worked with McCarthy, how did you make decisions about where to drill? Did he decide, or did you have the final say or what?

Francis X. Bostick
0:23:58.0 He would just take my word for it.

Interviewer
And you’d drill?

Francis X. Bostick
And drill.

Interviewer
That’s a good arrangement. But it doesn’t work that way with large companies?

Francis X. Bostick
No, it don’t. They consider many factors. There’s the size of the lease and who owns it and all that.

Interviewer
Then the final decision, of course, is made by the executives.

Francis X. Bostick
Executive board.

Interviewer
Do they usually adhere to the advice of the geologists?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, the companies I worked for did, yes.

Interviewer
So, the geologist is actually the key man in the whole structure of the oil industry?

Francis X. Bostick
In the exploration end of it. After they bring in the oil field, then it’s turned over to the petroleum engineering department.

Interviewer
Were you ever involved in that aspect of the industry in any way?

Francis X. Bostick
What?

Interviewer
The petroleum engineering?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
0:25:13.7 In what capacity?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, in just the setting of the well and the testing of it and all.

Interviewer
But that was not your main interest?

Francis X. Bostick
No.

Interviewer
Are you ever worried that we might be running out of oil resources or petroleum resources?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, I don’t worry about it, but I know we’re going to, because every barrel we take out of the ground that’s just 1 barrel gone. But I do think that we will find if the government increases the price of oil, enough for the wildcatter to go out and explore enough, that we’ll find lots of stratigraphic traps which will be very profitable. Now, you take the East Texas field for instance, it is a big stratigraphic trap.

Interviewer
0:26:16.5 And there’s still plenty of oil in there.

Francis X. Bostick
There’s lots of oil there yet, but of course there’s 2 billion barrels less than there was when they started.

Interviewer
In the heyday of the wildcatter, the ‘30s and ‘40s, did anyone stop and think about that? That maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to take out all the oil then?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, there were the days that the petroleum geologist and engineer didn’t want to produce at the full rate that they wanted to produce to keep the pressure in the ground, so you wouldn’t comb water up and ruin your oilfield.

 

Interviewer
I meant in terms of overall production—was there any attempt on the part of the independents to limit production? I know there was attempts on the part of the government, but was there ever any—

Francis X. Bostick
Well, that was started by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists to limit production of wells so they’d produce more oil, so the recovery would be greater.

Interviewer
Were you involved in that decision?

Francis X. Bostick
No, I wasn’t involved in it. However, I was a member of the AAPG for many years.

Interviewer
0:28:06.1 I’d like to return to your relationship with McCarthy. When did McCarthy first become a millionaire? What field was it that made him a millionaire?

Francis X. Bostick
I don’t know exactly whether it was Anahuac or Winnie or Blue Lake. He became—I think it was in Anahuac.

Interviewer
At that time, were you also working with other wildcatters besides McCarthy?

Francis X. Bostick
When he brought in Anahuac, I was with the Houston Oil Company.

Interviewer
Yeah, right. But after that, when you were still working with him was it your practice to also consult with others or were you strictly his geologist?

Francis X. Bostick
I was strictly his. I didn’t consult with anyone else.
Interviewer
I’m sure you were busy enough with that.

Francis X. Bostick
Yes. I was with him on salary until he sold out.

Interviewer
When was that, the early ‘50s?

Francis X. Bostick
That was along about the early ‘50s, ’52, ’53, somewhere along in there.

Interviewer
And right after he sold out, you went to work with whom?

Francis X. Bostick
0:29:57.4 I became a consultant.

Interviewer
So, in other words you’ve been a consultant since the early ‘50s?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
For over 20 years?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
You mentioned earlier that you were trying to reassemble all of this data to go over the data that had already been produced. Besides doing that, what are the other jobs of a consultant?

Francis X. Bostick
Well, I get reinterpretations from geophysical work, that is, seismic work and making subsurface maps from these seismic data. Then evaluation of properties for bank loans, inheritance, anything they want.

Interviewer
Are you called into court frequently?

Francis X. Bostick
No.

Interviewer
I mean, for example, as an expert witness?

Francis X. Bostick
No, I try to stay clear of those things.

Interviewer
0:31:16.6 I can’t say as I blame you. If you had it to do all over again, would you have still gone for a career in geology?

Francis X. Bostick
I think so, because I liked it. It was very exciting. Take particularly East Texas field there, to watch it expand, and I know that when I was in Tyler working for the Standlin Oil and Gas, well, they were drilling things so fast in there I had to contour my map with rubber bands and map tags.

Interviewer
Usually, I guess you have more time to carefully plot things out?

Francis X. Bostick
Yes.

Interviewer
It certainly is an exciting industry all around.
Francis X. Bostick
It is that, and it’s very exciting when you do lot and lots of research work and then make a location and then see the well come in. That gives you lots of satisfaction.

Interviewer
There’s always the element of the gamble, though. You can’t isolate all of the variables.

Francis X. Bostick
Nobody can tell whether you’re going to get a well there until you get that drill in the ground and all you approve of is the 8 inches or 6 inches, the diameter of the hole, that’s all.

Interviewer
Mr. Bostick, I have no more prepared questions, but I’d just like to ask you now if there’s anything else you’d like to add?

Francis X. Bostick
I don’t know of anything you may ask that I’d be glad to remember, to try to remember.

Interviewer
Well, as I said I have asked my prepared questions. I’d just like to thank you on behalf of the Houston Metropolitan Archives Research Center for your time. It’s been most enjoyable.

 

0:33:37.3 (end of audio)