Bob Critchlow

BobCritchlowHowI grew up in South Bend, Indiana, a couple of miles north of the University of Notre Dame campus. The surface in Northern Indiana is covered by Pleistocene glacial till, which contains rocks scraped from the Precambrian Canadian shield. The till contains every type of rock imaginable in a rainbow of colors. I collected the most colorful and unusual specimens.


I attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, but did not initially have a major in mind. My next oldest brother graduated with an astrophysics degree, but I was not interested in space. I did like rock collecting, so I took an introductory class in Geology from Dr. Lee Suttner. Dr. Suttner was a very energetic speaker and made the study of geology very interesting and the class included several local field trips. Southern Indiana was not affected by the Pleistocene glaciers and retained the original hilly topography. Since there is no glacial till covering the surface, there are numerous outcrops of Paleozoic limestones and sandstones with fantastic fossils and geodes. I was hooked! I joined the Spelunking Club and began to explore and map the caves in southern Indiana. One class that I particularly enjoyed was paleobotany because it involved field trips to Indiana coal strip mines that contained prolific amounts of Pennsylvanian plant fossils and a shale quarry in Tennessee that contained Tertiary plant fossils. I also enjoyed the structural geology field trip to Baraboo, Wisconsin. The highlight of my education was the eight week field camp in the Tobacco Root Mountains in southwestern Montana. The class included field trips to the Black Hills of South Dakota, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Hiking the mountains every day mapping outcrops totally isolated from civilization was inspiring.

I earned an MBA degree from UTSA in 1986. I was transferred to Dallas before the spring semester began, so I had to commute from Dallas to San Antonio twice a week on Southwest airlines to complete the required capstone class.

Boom and Bust

Upon graduating in 1975 and with little cash available for grad school, I enthusiastically accepted an offer from Texaco as a geophysicist in their Houston office. I drove to Houston in my 1965 Rambler American (no air conditioning) with all my assets comfortably fitting in the trunk and back seat. My career in the oil and gas business had begun! My life’s savings were quickly depleted with auto, rent and food expenses and at one point I had 10 cents to my name. I found out later that Texaco would have given me an advance on my paycheck to cover expenses. I was soon transferred to New Orleans where I mapped potential bid tracts in the offshore Gulf of Mexico for Texaco using 2D seismic data. Tying scores of lines of different vintages and datums was quite a chore without PC’s.

Tesoro Petroleum lured me to San Antonio, where I worked all of Texas, the Rockies, Canada, Algeria and Bolivia. The boom was on and I was rewarded with a company car and a lucrative bonus. It was exciting to travel the world looking for new projects. I flew to Bolivia several times to birddog seismic crews. One time I was changing planes in Brazil and accidentally walked out of the secure part of the airport. I was detained because I did not have a visa. After an hour of interrogation by police that spoke only Portuguese, I was saved by a passing stewardess that spoke the language and explained my situation. On another trip to Bolivia, my plane broke down in Peru. I fell asleep in the plane while the plane was being repaired. I awoke to find myself alone in the plane. I got the attention of some machine gun wielding soldiers near the plane and was escorted to a bus that was taking passengers to a hotel.

My next job was with Retamco, Inc. Retamco’s offices were located in San Antonio and the company owned the world’s largest polo complex. Each office had Saltillo tile floors, ceiling fans, grass matte walls and a patio with a view of the polo club (pool and clay tennis courts), polo fields and polo ponies. They also had two helicopters onsite and owned a small plane and a Lear jet.

The Penn Square Bank failure in 1982 and natural gas price decline of 1983 put an end to the boom and I became a consultant for the first time with a new child to support. I soon accepted a position with Santa Fe Minerals in San Antonio, but after the oil price collapse in 1986 the office was closed (the day my second child was born) and I was transferred to Dallas.

Santa Fe closed their offices in 1989 and I moved back to San Antonio to work for Clayton Williams as a geophysicist during his ill-fated election campaign to be the governor of Texas. He had built up a large lead in the polls, but an old campfire joke, a comment about youthful indiscretions and not shaking Ann Richard’s hand (following his campaign manager’s advice), cost him the election. The horizontal Austin Chalk boom was underway and it was my first job with an overriding royalty. The chalk boom was short-lived and Claytie closed the San Antonio office in 1994, so I accepted a job for Ramrod in New Braunfels that was planning a project in Ecuador. On one my visits to Ecuador I stood on the equator in the city called Mitad del Mundo. When the Ecuador project was sold, Ramrod was required to move their offices to Ecuador, so I moved to Mason, Michigan and worked as Exploration Manager for Dart Energy in the Michigan, Illinois and Appalachian Basins. At Dart, I continued my knowledge of unconventional reservoirs and helped put together coal bed methane projects in the Cherokee Basin in Kansas and the Arkoma Basin in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The cold, dark winters in Michigan were not as I remembered them as a child, so when my son and daughter went to college, I accepted an offer from VirTex and moved to Rockport in 2005. VirTex is currently highly involved in the exciting Eagle Ford shale play.

My career in Geology has taken me to many areas of North and South America and Africa. There have been many up and down cycles, but they all led to new and exciting places to live and work. A career as a geologist/geophysicist in the petroleum industry is very rewarding if you are willing to weather the energy recessions. What other career allows a person to travel to exotic places such as Algeria, Bolivia, and Ecuador? Most work is now done in the office, but field trips, conventions and seminars are necessary to keep abreast of the latest technology and developments. The oil business is one of the few careers where one can be directly rewarded (with overriding royalty interests) for their successes. At the GCAGS meeting in San Antonio, it was stated that over 50% of the AAPG membership is over 50 years old. It is a great opportunity for young geologists to be in the petroleum business.

Bob Critchlow

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