This is a neat story from OSB achieves about a good man and a way to wiggle yourself into an oil play in West Texas. McElroy Field in Crane County has been in the news of late because of some very old, leaking wells on the flanks of the field, improper plugging operations decades ago, Gulf, Chevron and exactly who's responsible for a well when it is conveyed to a fee owner for water well purposes, the Grantor or the Grantee.
Mr. Landreth was a clever man. He was also one of most well liked, well remembered oil men in West Texas history and is a member of the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum Hall of Fame. It is my honor to write about him.
The gentleman on the left is E. A "Ed" Landreth (1881-1962). He was raised in Joplin, Missouri and moved to Brackenridge, Texas to sell oilfield equipment shortly after the end of the first World War. In the early 1920's a friend of his got him in the exploration business in Shackleford County where his company, Ibex Oil, drilled a 1,700 BOPD, rip-snorter of an oil well that led to many other oil wells in the area. Ibex built a gas plant in the county and later sold 16 wells, its remaining acreage and the gas processing plant to Phillips Petroleum for $6 million. Mr. Landreth then commenced to really get in the West Texas oil business.
Unlike many early oil explorers Mr. Landreth had a propensity against partnerships and spreading risk. Instead he liked jumping into big oil plays with his own money, or borrowed money. He was one of the first oil men to actually finance oil deals with banks but in doing so found the key to getting loans was not oil in the ground, banks did NOT like that stuff, but equipment above ground. He was very affective financing below ground exploration with above ground assets over his career.
Above is a photograph of Ed Landreth, middle, L.H. True of Mobil Oil, left, and a man I had the great pleasure of knowing and operating for, Arthur Seeligson of San Antonio, far right. Mr. Seeligson was fabulously wealthy from his royalty interests in Jim Wells County but enjoyed participating in oil deals and once came out to one of my locations, with another great San Antonio oil man, Stanley L. Perkins, to log our well. Ed Landreth and Arthur Seeligson were pretty good buds.
YES, WE HAVE VACANIES
When Texas was being put together by surveyors and divided into counties, blocks, abstracts, sections, and smaller tracts...sometimes the boundaries did not all jive up properly. Its a big state, man, and it did not help that lots of measurements were taken in the Spanish Vera and not in feet. When things did not quite come together, or "fit, so to speak, it left pieces of land that were called "vacancies." These vacancies could be found and bought from the State, including, often, mineral rights associated with the vacancy. In 1939 the Texas Legislature fixed all that by prohibiting vacancy purchases. Before then, however, there are some truly amazing vacancy stories to be told and here is my all time favorite involving Ed Landreth and the Landreth Production Company....
In 1926 two fellas from up in San Angelo named Church and Fields discovered what would eventually become McElroy Field outside of Crane, in Crane and Upton Counties, Texas, in shallow Grayburg and San Andreas formations. Gulf Oil jumped all over the discovery and leased 65,000 acres in the area. In leasing the giant Waddell Ranch and other smaller ranches in Crane County, Gulf overlooked a vacancy of about four miles long and 400 feet wide between University Block 30 and Block E and F to the south, seen below in a 1922 map filed with the Texas General Land Office. Jax Cowden and a fella from Austin named, J. E Anderson bought the vacancy from the State of Texas General Land Office, and the minerals, and leased it to Ed Landreth for $72,000 lease bonus.
McElroy Field, 1926
With the vacancy leased and of public record, Ed Landreth hit the ground running and drilled fourteen wells along the vacancy as fast as he could get standard derricks erected and draw works moved from well to well. These wells were all unusually good wells for the field and Gulf Oil was, needless to say, pissed off about the whole damn thing.
For every 1,500 BOPD well Landreth drilled, Gulf would offset him on both sides of the strip with 300 BOPD wells. Before Landreth drilled the No. 13 on the Cowden-Anderson lease in August of 1927, Gulf offered him $200,000 for the entire asset, including producing wells and oil in storage.
That Gulf Oil offer went no where and likely pissed Landreth off. He installed an air lift system in each of his producing wells, similar to gas lift and very new in West Texas. All that tripled his production volumes from the vacancy; the No. 9 well, for instance, on air lift made 200,000 BO in two weeks.
As fast as Landreth was drilling good wells on the "strip" he was also building 55,000 barrel storage tanks at the same rate, ultimately 32 of the damn things and laying pipelines to circumvent Gulf's hold on the local market.
Then to add insult to injury, Landreth drilled the No. 14 well, shot it with 150 quarts of nitro glycerin and it came in making over 7,000 BOPD.
Gulf Oil then hit the roof. The Lessors (Cowden-Anderson) of the vacancy were also offset mineral owners to the south and they thought all this Landreth stuff was working out just fine for them. Gulf Oil, on the other hand, filed suit against Landreth for mineral trespass and the University of Texas University System, offsetting him to the north, joined in the suit. In pre-trial discovery Landreth was able to provide registered surveys of the vacancy, the validity of his mineral lease and the law suit was never heard.
In December of 1927, with the entire vacancy developed and most of his storage tanks tanks topped off, Ed Landreth had produced a remarkable 2MM BO from his strip and had over 700,000 barrels of oil in storage on the lease. He then gave Gulf Oil one last single digit salute from across the fence line and sold the entire deal, all the wells and storage to the Texas Company for $6,500,00 dollars; in todays dollars the equivalent of close to $96 million.
Texaco then painted and put its big star on every bit of iron it had, moving or not. It must have enraged Gulf management to drive on both sides of the vacancy every day and see all that, knowing full well it was getting the snot drained out of its acreage and Ed Landreth had walked with some really big bucks.
Landreth then paid his loans all off and moved south into Pecos County chasing Grayburg in the Taylor-Link and Rowan-Tong Fields, built lots of storage and marketing infrastructure ahead of some lack luster production, including a big gas well blowout in the Rowan area that Tex Thorton had to come take care of for him. Oil production did not materialize and Landreth lost his ass down in Pecos County, reportedly burning over $8 million in oil investments and corporate stocks during the great Wall Street crash of 1929. He righted the ship, eventually, and found more oil in West Texas later in his career.
Ed Landreth was one of the most well liked gentlemen in all of West Texas; Hines Baker, president of Humble Oil, once called Edward Landreth a man who “has had the character to withstand both disaster and outstanding success.” There are buildings named after the man at TCU in Forth Worth and he is a member of the Hall of Fame at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum He retired to the valley and raised cattle but his arduous career in the Permian Basin is nothing short of amazing.
To be very clear, in 1927... Ed Landreth put the whoop-ass on mighty Gulf Oil in Crane County, Texas.
Unocal bought both Gulf and Texaco, merged and renamed itself Chevron, and unitized McElroy Field into two units, North and South. It water flooded the field, injected CO2 and more water and has been tinkering with injection patterns, etc, ever since. It sold the McElroy North Unit to Apache in 1995. On the right, a current GLO map that shows the original 1928 lease is still held by production due to unitization. Apache appears to have one producing well on the strip and several injectors.
Above is a recent satellite image of the old, Landreth Strip just east of Crane, Texas, out along Golf Course Rd. One can still see old abandoned locations, the lease road right up the middle of the strip, current, active Apache wells and even the outlines of old firewalls that use to surround the big storage tanks Landreth built, from east of the county line, in Upton County, west all the way back to the town of Crane.