What Happens When You Hit a Career Dead End? The Last Landman

The year is 2030, and landmen have gone extinct. They hit a career dead end. Fossil fuels are being rejected all over the world, replaced and displaced by less efficient and more expensive “renewable” or “greener” energy. After decades of being the oil and gas industry’s punching bags, there have been no new landmen born since 2016. Certainly there have been individuals that claim the title of landman, but that is only for appearances. They mostly work for mineral buying shops and are shark-like salesmen and swindlers. Using the title “landman” to gain legitimacy explains all you need to know about their real profession.

Anybody Can Be A Landman

Engineers, geologists, and random in house personnel have replaced landmen because “anybody can be a landman.” The idea that a lack of specific degree programs or a governing body means there is no barrier to entry has always been true, but just because anyone can be a landman does not mean everyone can be a successful landman. The transition away from professional landmen has coincided with increasing resistance to oil and gas development from landowners and governing agencies, but it is easier to blame “the world we live in” than to admit that landmen actually served a purpose.

Who’s ever heard of “a people person” anyways? Every person is a person, so it’s obviously the same thing. You have to possess the right mind and degree to be an engineer, a geologist, a physicist, or a private equity finance bro. There’s no requirements like that for landmen so they’re obviously lesser beings in the oil and gas hierarchy. Well…maybe you don’t need a special degree or mindset, but you certainly need personality, patience, and street smarts to be a successful landman.

Real Life Realities

Don’t let the fictional setting fool you, because the scenario is very real. Nobody wants to be a landman anymore, and nobody wants to train new landmen either. Clients have slashed exploration budgets to a fraction of where they were a decade ago, and see no reason to pay more when they can continue to reduce their budgets. That’s fine and well until you run out of landmen willing to do the work. I’ve seen first hand what happens when you take a college grad that’s still wet behind the ears and stick him in the company landman role because his uncle is on the board. It would be a hilarious comedy except that it usually costs people their jobs and investors their money. Rarely does the insolent “landbro” get any of the backlash.

How many times can you kick a dog to the curb before it ventures off in search of a more gentle master? We’re finding out. I know more former landmen than current landmen. Most of them say they’re never coming back. For the most part, they’re better off. The fossils that have 150 years of combined experience are starting to die off, they tried to hand over their businesses to younger men that grew up with soft hands and never had any hunger or grit. Those men flap idly in the wind, whichever direction a client’s hot air happens to blow. It doesn’t take much to lose someone’s trust, but it takes monumental effort to win it back.

The Dead End

So what are we going to do when there aren’t enough landmen to do the work? I don’t know, because we are already there. Renewable projects started out to save the planet and “get back at fossil fuels,” but they quickly learned that having experienced landmen is the only way to acquire the immense volume of land and contracts necessary to even begin construction. So they came around. They tried to undervalue decades of experience because there are no degrees or specific certifications governing the trade. For the most part, I think they’ve come around on that issue too. We used to be small fish in a big pond. For decades the pond has been shrinking and the fish have been dying or just jumping out to another pond.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next 5-10 years.

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