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Oil Industry Not Done Right By Hollywood

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As a lifelong oilman, I've been disappointed -- and sometimes frustrated -- by the way Hollywood has portrayed my industry.

During the past four decades or so, people in the oil business usually have been shown as greedy, manipulative, opportunistic villains who value money over conscience. From J.R. Ewing on TV's Dallas to Daniel Plainview in the recent film There Will be Blood, it is easy to find examples of stereotypical oilmen.

It is true that the oil industry, just like any other business, has those who exploit others for personal gain. In my 30 years of experience in the oil patch, however, I have found that 99 percent of those who work in the business are hard-working, values-minded, patriotic people who just want to make a living.

Television and movies rarely show the thousands of people in the industry who lose their fortunes -- or even lives -- in the search for crude oil. Beyond Hollywood, elected officials at all levels often attack the industry, using partial facts or incomplete knowledge of the industry.

This is certainly part of the reason the American public distrusts any statement issued by an oil company executive. And it's partly why I agreed to cooperate with the making of Black Gold, a series about oil exploration that will debut June 18 on truTV.

When our company, ExL Petroleum, was approached by Original Productions (of Deadliest Catch fame) about the development of Black Gold, my initial response was a profound "no." My mistrust of the media was a primary reason for not wanting to be involved. However, that was not the only factor.

A few years ago, I was asked to escort a film crew from Italy who traveled to Texas, supposedly to create a documentary on the oil industry. Long story short, I discovered the film crew was actually a group intent on inflicting physical damage to disrupt the business.

My partners at ExL Petroleum, Doug Robison and Dave Feavel, convinced me that listening to Original Productions could do no harm and that it might even provide an opportunity to set the record straight.

Reluctantly, I agreed to hear the pitch.

I spoke with key people from truTV and Original Productions, including executive producer Thom Beers. They convinced us they wanted to tell the real-life stories of those in the oil industry.

Once filming began, I learned something about myself. I realized that I had developed my own prejudices against Hollywood. I was surprised to find that the film crew mirrored us in many ways.

Their work with us involved extensive safety training, due to the dangers of not only the equipment involved in drilling a well but the situations that can be encountered. The film crew was eager to learn and understand what it takes to find oil.

By the time shooting was complete, we had become good friends and left with mutual admiration.

I also have been astonished, even after being in the business for my entire career, at how important it is to tell people what the oil business is really all about.

Unlike Hollywood portrayals that sometimes make it seem easy to strike oil and get rich, Black Gold should present a more realistic picture.

Our boys work day and night in search of crude that will ultimately fuel our cars and heat our homes. America's oil men can dramatically reduce our need for oil imports if we are allowed to responsibly drill the most prospective areas of our country, both on and offshore.

I am cautiously optimistic that Black Gold will portray the oil industry as it really is. I hope the American public will come away with a sense of the hard work, danger and financial risks involved in providing the gasoline and heating oil so many people take for granted.

Finally, I hope Americans come to appreciate the vast number of independent operators like ExL. We're the ones who search for and produce most of the new oil reserves found here at home.

Mike LaMonica is a Senior Partner of ExL Petroleum LP in Midland, Texas.