NEW YORK —
“The numbers were too intriguing, the prize was so big,” he remembered.
He thought there could be as much as a billion barrels of oil within reach in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere — if only he could squeeze it out.
In 2003, he had a “eureka!” moment while poring over pictures of rock. Sections of a 40-foot-long column of source rock had been run through a CT scanner, the same type used to peer into the human body.
He saw something in the source rock sections the rest of the industry didn’t know was there: a network of passageways big enough for oil molecules to pass through. Papa believed the passageways could act like rural roads for the oil to travel through. Fracking could then create superhighways for the oil to gather and feed into a pipe and up to the surface.
EOG began drilling test wells, and in 2005, Papa got some results from one in North Dakota that made him realize oil could flow fast enough to pay off.
“It was kind of like holy cow,” he says. “My first thought was we need to replicate this, make sure it’s not a freak result.”
It wasn’t. EOG snapped up land in a similar formation in South Texas known as the Eagle Ford Shale for $400 an acre when his competition thought it would never produce much oil. That land now goes for $30,000 per acre.
Papa thought the Eagle Ford might hold 500,000 barrels of oil. The Department of Energy now predicts it holds 3.4 billion. Some even expect 10 billion, which would make it the biggest oil field in U.S. history.
SMART DRILLS, RIGS THAT CAN WALK
But even after drillers figured out how to find oil and gas deep offshore and in onshore source rock, they still needed to develop technology that would make it economical.