Land Work in the Grand Scheme of the Oil and Gas Industry [Repost] [Archives]

This was originally posted on on June 11, 2014 back when I was a younger, dumber landman. Much like Nostradamus my words are still true today…

“What do you do?”

I’m sure almost any landman reading this has experienced this situation. Someone asks what you do for a living. What do you say? “I work in oil and gas,” to be as general as possible, and let’s be honest in today’s world “oil and gas” is about as interesting as it gets, everyone wants to know more about it. “I’m a landman,” hoping that they understand what you mean and don’t ask the follow up question, “what’s a landman?” Maybe you get more specific but still leave a bit open to interpretation, “I do title work for an oil and gas company.” No matter what your answer is, chances are even if the person who you’re conversing with knows nothing about the oil and gas industry, they are going to have some kind of perception about landmen. A lot of that prejudice is deserved, because we all know there are some slimy pieces of shit in our field. What bothers me is the sense of superiority that many people take on once they find out you’re a landman.

Perhaps that person works in another area of the oil and gas industry and has heard about worthless landmen. Maybe they had a personal experience with a sleazy landman or know someone who has. Some of their old high school or college buddies might be landmen, and those guys may have been slackers back then. Every once in awhile that superiority stems from jealousy because the person you’re conversing with hates their job doing whatever it is they do. The “glamorous” jobs in oil and gas are things like being a geologist, an engineer, an accountant, an analyst, or a consultant. We’re landmen though. A lot of landman jobs don’t require any prerequisite education and carry no pre-qualifications. That’s a far cry from the geology degree, engineering degree, or business degree that other parts of the business demand just to get your foot in the door. Maybe that low bar for entry is what consistently leads people to think our profession is somehow less important than the aforementioned ones.

Landman Lives Matter

Let’s be straight about one thing though, without landmen there would be no oil and gas industry in the United States. The land work is just as important, if not more so, than the geology, engineering, financial, or business aspects of the oil and gas industry. We’re often the last to get paid (see Orange Energy Consultants vs the TitleNazi), the lowest paid, and the least respected part of the overall industry. That doesn’t change the fact that we are the face of oil and gas. When a company wants to start drilling wells in a given area they rely on landmen to tell them what areas are unleased. If a geologist finds a particular area of interest, he has to rely on landmen to get the leases signed for exploration in that area. Bean counters (accountants) can set budgets to projects before their inception, but if the landowners won’t sign for less than $XXX,XXX.XX dollars per acre it’s not going to happen. Business men with all their savvy can’t negotiate deals when there is clouded title to the areas of interest.

Cash Flow Experts

Without us, the oil and gas industry would be crippled. Sure, some companies neglect the land work and figure that if they make a well they can figure it all out later. They end up paying dearly for that mistake if they get sued. Other companies rush the land work because time is money. That time will be spent curing “title defects” if it’s not spent on the front end before the title opinions are issued. I’ve always said that there are two ways of doing land work, the right way, and the fast way. Have you ever worked on a prospect that is being directed by an engineer, geologist, or business man with no land work experience? It’s hell. They don’t understand the intricacies  of title work and often write it off as an inconvenience. Those clients are the most likely to “let it ride” when it comes to your invoices. When they look at the costs associated with the other aspects of drilling a well, what does it matter that Joe Landman doesn’t get his $10,000.00 for a couple of months? Fuck. That.

Most people don’t know who Joe Landman is

Joe Landman made it possible for you to drill that well without getting the everliving shit sued out of you. He’s also probably a pretty cool dude…or at least he drinks enough beer that I could get along with him. So what if he’s dumb as a rock, wears jeans and boots everyday, likes to play golf, and may not have gone to an ivy league school? That doesn’t diminish his importance to the operations of oil and gas. Monkeys could do our jobs if they were dumb enough to learn how to read and write, but they’re smart enough that they haven’t. Sure, the land work can be boring as hell, but it HAS to be done. Want to drill a well on the cheap? Better get a good landman to handle the lease negotiations. Run into a problem during the drilling or other parts of the operations? Call up that landman and hope he’s got a good relationship with the landowner. Our job is not only to do the title work and get the landowners to sign the leases, we also have to form relationships with them that will smooth over the hiccups that will inevitably happen.

There are plenty of landmen that have moved on to “higher” positions in life and the oil and gas industry. A comprehensive understanding of land work can be the cornerstone to a successful career in oil and gas. Let’s not forget our former President George W. Bush was a landman. To be a good landman you need certain people skills, unless you aspire to be a “courthouse landman” for the rest of your life. Even then, you need to be personable enough to get along with the other people in the courthouse. Nobody likes the asshole that treats everyone else like shit no matter what business you’re in. There is a certain quality required to be able to call up a landowner, strike up a conversation, and then proceed to negotiate lease terms, not everyone can do that. Maybe with proper training anyone could do it, but our field is not notorious for comprehensive training.

To wrap things up, landmen are a crucial part of oil and gas. You can’t do things without us, despite how little you think of us.


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