Wer sich von Baton Rouge, Louisiana auf den Weg nach Houston, Texas macht, sich nördlich des Interstate 10 auf dem Highway 105 nach Westen bewegt, der landet im Öl. Es ist die Landschaft, in der sich zu Beginn des 20. Jahrhunderts der Texanische Ölboom abspielte. Spuren dieser Zeit lassen sich vielerorts noch heute entdecken.
Der Ort könnte Sour Lake heissen oder Kountze, Buna oder Daisetta.
Eine Geschichte aus Batson, TX ist es geworden, als meine Frau und ich im Winter 1990 unser Auto für eine Frühstückspause vor Rufnek’s Café anhielten. Ein Flachbau, ein Speiseraum, ein paar geparkte Trucks, drei Zapfsäulen: E-Z Serve.
Charlotte Yust sprach uns vom Nachbartisch an. Ihr Vater war während des Krieges als Artillerist bis nach Bayern und heil wieder nach Hause gelangt. Er sei im Ölgeschäft, wir sollten ihn unbedingt treffen und kennenlernen. Er würde sich sehr freuen, jemanden aus Deutschland zu treffen.
Robert Yust war Chef seiner eigenen Ölfirma Yust Enterprises Inc., ein kleiner, starker Mann mit fester Meinung und mit Grundsätzen. Zwei bis drei Angestellte, Tochter Charlotte im Büro und Sohn Freddy im Ölfeld.
Daß wir im Zentrum des texanischen Ölbooms von 1903 gelandet waren, das konnte man der Gegend nicht mehr ansehen. Wohl aber, daß die Arbeit im Öl nicht bedeutet, große Reichtümer anzuhäufen. Von der Arbeit dieser Leute, von der Landschaft in Süd-Ost-Texas und von den Spuren eines zu Ende gehenden Zeitalters handelt dieses Buch.
Die Bilder entstanden ein gutes Jahr später im Verlaufe einiger Besuche im Ölfeld mit einer großformatigen Polaroidkamera . Vielen Dank der Familie Yust und allen Mitarbeitern, die die Anwesenheit eines fremden Fotografen so bereitwillig und hilfsbereit ertrugen.
Seine Geschichte erzählt Robert Yust selber:
"My father started in the oil business in 1904, and I was born in an oil field in 1919, actually in a house in the shade of a derrick. That was in Louisiana, and when I was five we moved to Batson, because my father was engaged in the oil field, and I grew up in the oil field.
The man who owned the place where my father was working sold it to my father in 1935. After I graduated from Texas A&M, class of 1940, I came back and worked for roughly one year. Then came Pearl Harbour and within a couple of months I was in the army. I mustered out in 1946 and worked for my father again, and then after five, six or eight years he took me in as his partner.
When he died in 1959 I had a half. We were five children having one thenth each, so I bought all my brothers and sisters out and so had all the original property that my father had had.
Today I have more. That property is located in Batson, Texas, where I picked up a couple more leases. Then I bought a lease in Saratoga, and then I picked up two leases of ten acres each in Diasetta in the Hull oil field.
The outlook of everything as far as the countryside is concerned is much different now. When my parents moved to this town there was no stock law. There were hardly any fences except where you had a fence around your garden, your horse lot or your cow lot, and there was open range for horses, cows and pigs and any other thing you wanted to run, chickens or what ever, and I believe in 1950 they voted in a stock law and by then a great deal of fencing had been done. Then areas that had been open prairie started growing up with trees and underbrush and such as that. So just looking at it – a person that looked at it fity, sixty years ago, nothing would look at all the same. There were areas here in the prairie of ten miles in diameter with not a tree in it.
Way back when I wa a boy, there were wooden derricks on every well, and it took a pulling unit or horses to pull the wells with. After that they started to put up the pipe derricks, and now they have changed to mobile service units that just drive up to the well and pull the rods and tubings to service the well. That change was a gradual thing that took place over forty years. Some of the wooden tanks is about all that’s left over, there are a few central powers in places but very few that I know are in operation any more.
The work in the oil fields is still pretty much the same. My personal informations where to drill a hole and where to look for oil comes from the past knowledge, what was learned by the oldtimers. I have records up from bevor 1915 up to the time I got actively engaged. Referring back to those and listening to what the oldtimers talk – where they were able to make good wells – hat generally holds through today. You may not make a good well, but you can make a producer that will pay for it, it may produce soem paying amounts. They have areas here that they call dead areas. They go over there and drill and they get a trace of oil but they never get any wells that pay for themselves. But there was actually a well here in the boomdays that flowed a thousand barrels a day.
When I was a boy about ten years old in 1929 there was the depression and oil went down to fifteen cents a barrel here and practically all of the operators more or less shut down, but things gradually picked up again. When OPEC caused the price of oil to jump up - 1974 I believe - that made the price of oil here go up and everybody prospered. When about 1983/1984 the price dropped to the bottom, it’s been slim pickings ever since.
We have reduced the labour as much as we can because due to the economics. The price of oil dictates just about what you can do. Without any incommodity, if he price is high you can make money and hire more men and spend more money to make more money. The price of oil is down, so you get by with a minimum amount of labour.
As to what the future will hold for the oil production here, I guess my best answer will be I don’t know because none of us knows what is going to happen to the supply. Evereybody thought that when the (gulf) war started the price of oil would go up which it did for about a week, but then it settled back down, because the oil producing countries produced more oil and we never had a shortage.
The importance of what we produce here compared to what the U.S. import from the world market is a very diffucult economic question. We are going to operate if we can make a profit, whereas they can import all the foreign oil they want regardless of what we get. Now as a rule: It takes two dollars to transport oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States, therefore we get about two dollars more than they get for their oil over there.
It is very difficult to produce most of your wells here at the maximum amount and follow them to hold a regular steady basis. There will start just a natural decline.
But that has not held true yet over in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait and places like that because those wells are made in tremendous reservoirs of limestone. I was reading three or four months ago that Saudi Arabia had just retired their first commercial producer and it would still make five thousand barrels of oil a day. They would not produce a well unless it makes ten to forty thousand barrels.
Stripper production, which I have been in for all my life – that means wells that make less than ten barrels a day - so if we get down to economics there, it is a nip and tuck proposition. A good well for us is about three or four barrels a day. Being an independant is just like the old joke is – you can go fishing any time you want to, but you feel you never have the time to take off and do it. You have to worry about producing and selling enough oil to pay your expenses plus having some left over if you want to do any exploration and also buy new equipment, or buy good second hand equipment because your old equipment wears out. Therefore, if you are an independant, you feel that the more you work to get more oil, the better off you will be, whereas if you work for a major company it makes no difference how hard you work or what you do, you are just going to get as much money. But you have the chance as an independant, working hard, making maybe some good strikes when you drill and make some good wells, and making much more money than you would if you’d work for a major company.
Now, there isn’t a major company in Batson, and I guess it’s about twelve or fifteen small independants. Back then when the (great) depresssion hit there were three or four major companies operating here. They quit, moved out. The independents drill two thirds of all the new wells every year, and you understand, we got two kind of independants: The wealthy independant and the poor boy, the stripper independant. I consider myself as a stripper, as they say working from hand to mouth.
It used to be that you knew exactly what the price of oil was, but now they trade oil in futures like they do grain and meat and commodities. And practically everyday there is a different price on crude oil. About the time I was born and before, you could just run your oil in the pipeline, and then when you said I sell my oil now, then you got he price for it was selling then. You might have a million barrels in the pipeline. A lot of people gambled that way, and then some of them, they sold it for what ever the current price was.
But I guess you say that the whole petroleum industry in the United States has been a gamble from the beginning of times."
Interview mit Robert Yust April 1991 Batson
Besonderer Dank gilt:
Charlotte Yust, ein großes Herz
Charles Carrol, ihrem Mann, ebenso
Robert Yust, Freddy Yust,
Harold, James, Larry, Lesley und Lester in den Ölfeldern,
Mandy Cash für den 76er Monte Carlo, rust in peace.