Sunday, March 31, 2013

TOPP Interview: Mr. Morris Burns, Lobbyist, Business Owner, and Observer

Hi folks!  Welcome to the first interview for the Oil Patch Post!  I hope you enjoy this interview as I had a blast visiting with our guest.

On March 29, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Morris Burns.  Mr. Burns .. er .. Morris (He said Mr. Burns is his father. Interesting perception for a guy who said he was in his 80s) is a long-time oil and gas personality here in the Permian Basin.  He has been a Lobbyist, Business Owner, and instructor.  As someone who has been a keen observer of the industry for the last nearly 50 years, he was kind enough to accept my invitation to be the first guest of my little blog.  It is with great pleasure and humility that I present you with excerpts of our conversation.

JL:  This is Jay Leeper with the Oil Patch Post I have with me at this time Mr. Morse Burns.  Mr. Burns is been a regular guest speaker on the KWEL call-in talk show which you can hear on Tuesday mornings.  He also has knowledge of the oil and gas field here in West Texas.  He also has the distinction of being the very first guest of the Oil Patch Post.  Welcome to the show.  Mr. Burns, if you don’t mind, would you please tell us a little about what jobs that you’ve done in the past?  How long have you been involved with the oil and gas field?

MB:  A long time.  (Laughter)  I got involved in the mid to late seventies.  I had some friends who had a company that put together to manufacture and distribute unmanned mud logging systems and they did not promote it.  I win in and started promoting it make a contact for them.  We got the thing going pretty well.  In 1981 there are 4500 rigs running.  People in the field say that we are in a boom now but we had 4500 rigs running and so we aren’t there yet.  I wound up owning the company.  From ‘81 to ‘86 we were in a slow decline and then in January of ‘86 Saudi Arabia open the valves as Saudi Arabia was tired of everyone cheating on their quotas and then they being the swing producer they flooded the market.  I had to take a job and go to work.  I started out with the West Texas Oil & Gas Association in Abilene lobbying.  I was there for 12 years and then I was contacted by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association here.  They entice me to come here to Midland and ‘97 and I ran that until 2006.  I’ve done some other things in the meantime.  I ran the NatCo Training Center doing safety and things like this.  The main thing I do now is Defensive Driving.  Heaven knows we need that.  That is a much harder thing to get certified to teach.  It requires some work.  Things that I was doing with companies they now have their own people to do it.  I now teach it locally for ticket abatement and for insurance purposes.  I do this for the oil companies and for just people who need it.  I’ll be teaching classes in Marfa and Lamesa in the next two weeks. 

JL: Do you ever slow down?

MB: I do not sit and look at walls very well.


JL: What other past jobs have you held?

MB:  Well, like I said, I started a company called FerreTronics.  We found out the name of the company was too esoteric.  Nobody knew what that was.  They didn’t know what a Ferret was.  It was funny because we would sit around try to figure out how to promote it and we would laugh saying if you pass gas we will know it.  Well, like I said, I also ran the West Texas Oil & Gas Association, the NatCO Training Center until NatCO sold that to Cameron.    Defensive Driving is what I do mostly right now.  I do some public relations work with people.  I have one guy I’m working with who is trying to sell gallons of crude oil to research facilities and I’m helping him work out some information on that.  It’s kind of like shooting pool.  It’s been any ball in any pocket.

JL: We were talking earlier about observations of the oil and gas field.  What trends do you see coming?

MB:  Technology now is tremendous.  When we first started out we would rent these on a daily rental fee.  We would take our recorder and measure in 2” increments which would be the same as the geolograph for the geologist to compare our hydrocarbon readings with the drilling breaks in the geolograph.  It was not a chromatograph.  At that time mudloggers would get $500 a day in and we would $100 a day.  We were blowing and going there for awhile.  I went to the world oil show in Dallas in December of ‘81.  That was the absolute peak.

JL: Awesome!  If you don’t mind, what are some of the main differences you see between today’s professionals and the professionals of your day?

MB: The technology advances are tremendous.  When we were logging a well it was logged on site.  And then you took the logs to town and a set them out on the desk and looked at them.  If you were a geologist and wanted to see the information real time you had to sit there on the well.  Now the information is transmitted over the Internet.  When I first started the only field communication was a mobile phone and a mobile operator.  You had repeater towers but they weren’t close enough for continuous information so you had to use an answering service.  Those women in the answering service knew me and knew my habits and better than my wife.  They can find me anywhere and tell me that I got a phone call from so and so.  One Thanksgiving I had everyone gone.  It was just me and I was in the field.  Every time I got back I had a message from the answering service.  Well I was trying to watch the Texas A&M football game and my wife and daughter were visiting her parents in Levelland.  The answering service would call me and said that they hate to keep bothering me on Thanksgiving but I said, “No ma’am.  I’m giving thanks.”  But like I said, the technology has changed and you can get much more comprehensive logs.  It makes things go so much faster now a days.  Water flooding and CO2 flooding have changed the field.  And so has fracking.  It’s funny I hear the news media talking about this new controversial oil drilling technique.  It’s not new.  It’s been in the oil patch since 1947.  It wasn’t controversial for the first 50 years until the green folks found out we were making cracks in the ground.  And it’s not a drilling technique.  It was originally used as a stimulation technique.  Now it’s used as a completion technique.  It’s the only proven way we can get oil and gas out of shale.  These are just some of the changes and I’m sure we’ll see more and more overtime.

JL:  What about the professionals today?  Are they pretty well prepared for the challenges of today?

MB:  Yeah.  You know it was funny and ’79, ‘80 to ‘81 if someone got out of college with an engineering or a geology degree unless they were just the village idiot they would go straight to the oilfield and the village idiots went to work in the railroad commission because the village idiots did know the difference between a pump jack and a railroad track so they went in the railroad commission.  We had to “train” some of these folks.  And we’re getting back to that point.  I spoke to a group from UTPB.  I took them on a tour of the Petroleum Museum and when we wrapped up I asked them if they had any questions.  One kid asked me, “Is this going to last?”  I told him, “Yeah.  You got a job for as long as you want to work.”  With this Cline Shale just barely getting started it is a huge, huge formation.  It’s 100 miles long and 75 miles wide and according to the San Antonio Express News the depth of this formation as 250 to 500 feet.  They said it was like 10 Eagle Fords stacked one on top of each other.  It’s just a huge formation and we’re just getting started. 

JL: WOW!  I have just a few more questions and I got a lot of feedback on this one.  If you could pass something on to today’s professional to better help them, what would it be?

MB: Get in something and stay with it.  Loyalty will not be included in the next printed version of the Oxford dictionary.  There’s no loyalty from employer to employee or from employee to employer.  It’s really sad.  We’ve seen people stay with the company from the time they get hired until they retired.  The company would take care of them.  We used to say that companies would change crude oil suppliers for the difference of a nickel and now we see the same thing with employees.  There is no loyalty from the employer to the employee or up or down.  It’s really a shame.  I really hate that.  Be a valuable person to the company and learn as much as you can.  Greed is a terrible thing.  There is plenty of money to go around.  Get with something you enjoy doing.  I liked going to the field.  There was a driller on one of the rigs and when I would walk up on him he would say “Ohh, no!  Not you again!  I would rather see a rattlesnake come on site than you.” We would banter back and forth.  There was a time I went out on rig and it was covered in ice and it was a clear day and it was just beautiful.  I wish I had a camera.  I know that people say that rigs will scare off the wild animals but there was a time when I went out and I saw a doe and a fawn right by the rig road.  As I got close, she whistled, ran off, and the fawn dropped trying to camouflage itself.  I got as close to it as I was to you (about 4 feet) and it never moved.  And the people out on these rigs they’re wonderful.  Do something that you have fun doing and that you’re good at. 

JL:  Awesome.  One last question.  Do you have any cool stories that you’d like to tell us about?  I’m always looking for cool stories.  Does anything come to mind that you’d like to share with us?

MB:  O goodness.  It was interesting when I was a lobbying.  Working with other people I always got into it with other associations.  We would go to Washington and someone would say, “Hey, let’s take a Charlie Rangel to lunch.”  Charlie Rangel will eat our steak and drink our whisky but he is never ever going to vote for us.  I wanted to talk to people who we could persuade to help us because he is never going to help us and the other associations would still do it.  I wasn’t going to contribute my association’s hard earned money to that.  Any time and every time I went into his office, Lamar Smith would come out and greet us personally.  At that time, they had Midland and Odessa split up into three congressional districts so that we couldn’t get someone from here elected.  They didn’t want someone from Midland or Odessa in Congress making decisions.  In all it’s been very interesting.  I’ve known two presidents on a first name basis and I’ve known six governors on a first name basis.  While I was with the association I really got to meet the movers and shakers.  It was great being a part of that.

Admittedly, there was a lot of other discussion we kicked around that I didn’t get into the interview, but I have to admit that I learned a lot.  As we parted ways, I reflected on how people like Morris have a lot to offer the younger generation of professionals and I have to encourage all of us to take every opportunity to try to sit down with these folks and pick their brains as what they know is relevant to us today.  There is a lot we will lose in the near future as these folks will no longer be accessible and it is up to us to honor their contributions  If you have any questions for Morris, you can put them in the comment sections or email him at .  I know he'd be glad to hear from you.  

Thank you for taking some time to read this post.  I hope you have found it worthwhile and not too many typos.  Like any worthwhile endeavor and like the oil field, this will evolve.  Into what, I have no idea but you have an influence.  Any feedback is appreciated and hopefully I’ll be able to see you out and about.

Take care, all!