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Oil Wildcatters As Detailed by One

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Wildcatters like Wyatt won't let go


Those unfamiliar with the peculiarities of a legendary wildcatter's genetic makeup may not understand why Oscar Wyatt, one month shy of 80, wants to be back in the game.

A veteran of the oil and gas business for 50 years, Wyatt and a group of investors are trying to acquire "Enron's" crown jewel — the nation's largest natural gas pipeline — for $2.2 billion.

I called Wyatt at his Houston office last week to ask if retirement was against his religion.

"Not particularly," said Wyatt, who in the 1950s started "Coastal," the nation's first independent natural gas gathering and marketing company. "It's just that I've noticed that when people like me retire, they usually die. I'd rather work than die."

There's more to it than that. When Wyatt's predecessors — old Texas wildcatters such as Sid Richardson, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison and Roy Cullen — are considered, certain common traits stand out. They were impulsive, blunt and hungry for both money and power.

Why, then, at this stage of his life, has Wyatt decided to rebuild the company that made him a player, "Coastal Corporation," into "NuCoastal"? The answer is he suffers from every tycoon's malady — a primal fear of not being able to guide the events of his time.

Wyatt grew up with not much more than his own shirttail in South Texas. He learned to fly a crop-duster as a young man, became a pilot during World War II and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M. Then, with an initial investment of $800, he built "Coastal" into a natural gas empire.

Younger players in the energy business simply do not understand his combative disposition or his compulsion to leave his brand on all of Texas, most of the United States and the Middle East.

"The players have all changed," reflected Wyatt. "We've got all these classy MBAs from Harvard and Yale running our energy companies. These guys have been taught that stockholders aren't entitled to profits, only management is entitled to profits. They learned the wrong lessons."

That answer reveals Wyatt's other motivation — anger. Four years ago, Wyatt sold "Coastal" to "El Paso Natural Gas" for $24 billion. He soon regretted the sale as he watched the value of his "El Paso" stock sink like a rock. Like "Enron," "Reliant Resources," "Williams Energy" and other energy companies, "El Paso" created off-the-balance-sheet deals to borrow vast amounts of money.

Two years ago, Wyatt and another large shareholder went to "El Paso's" annual board meeting in Houston, screamed about the decreased value of the stock and tried to throw out the company's board of directors.

"All of these companies tried to reap big rewards off completely imagined schemes," Wyatt said. "If they had taken genuine risks, I'd have admired them. That's not what they did. It was hocus-pocus."

The young players bristle at taking lessons from Wyatt, whose own career is riddled with controversy. In the 1970s, when Texans lost control of the price of oil to the Middle East and the energy crisis sent the price of gas soaring, Wyatt cut back on deliveries to many Texas cities, including San Antonio. Consumers were forced to pay higher rates, and Wyatt was accused of hocus-pocus himself.

"I couldn't sell gas that I didn't have," Wyatt said.

Now he's back where he started in the 1950s — building a company he calls "NuCoastal."

Each morning, Wyatt goes into his office and meets with a core group of old "Coastal managers." He's at work on a five-year, 10-year and 20-year plan for NuCoastal.

He has no doubt that he will live long enough to see how the "NuCoastal" influences the world.

"My mother is 102," Wyatt said. "I plan to live at least that long."

Russell is a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News.(jarboe@express-news.net).



CV-67, "Big John," USS John F. Kennedy Plank Walker

Sooner, or later, the Truth emerges Clearly





T ogether

E veryone

A chieves

M ore

"Lyndon Johnson wasn’t jovial — he looked as if he read other people’s dark thoughts --and liked them"

----Jesse Sunenblick, "Little Murders"

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