Questionable Ethics

More years ago than I like to think about, I worked for a oil service company in Alabama. I, as well as others working for the company, routinely visited drilling well sites to perform services for the oil companies operating the wells being drilled. Broadly speaking, due to costs and risk mitigation, there are many owners of a well being drilled in search of oil and gas. Because of the fractionated interests, one of the owners is designated, by mutual agreement, to be the operator of the well. The owners of the well have an ownership which is simply referred to as a working interest. As this is not meant to be a discourse on ownership interests, I will dispense with further elaboration.

On one occasion, around a holiday, two of the working interest owner employees, both being geologist, and a geological consultant were having a conversation concerning the well, what had transpired, and what was anticipated to occur. This discussion was Each working interest owner geologist represented their respective company and the geological consultant was engaged by one of the working interest owners and received direction from one of the geologists at the well site. The geologist was planning to return home for the holiday. That geologist was providing the consulting geologist with information concerning what had to be done in his absence. Obviously, the other geologist was present during the conversation and must have been a bit envious of his peer’s consulting arrangement since he approached the consulting geologist to contract for the the same services on the same well.

The consulting geologist told the second geologist he would provide the services and quoted his daily rate and expenses. This arrangement was immediately agreed upon. Following the verbal agreement, the two company geologist and the consulting geologist laughed about the amount of money the consultant would be making per day plus the double expenses. With the consultants new found contract, one of the company geologist suggested they memorialize the event with dinner and drinks, at the consultants expense, of course. The three of them left the drill site shortly thereafter.

Out of curiosity several weeks later I did ask one of the company geologist about the arrangement which was the consummated at the well, of which he confirmed. Being young and naive, I was absolutely amazed at how business was so loosely and quickly conducted. But, more importantly, I was confused. The actions of the consultant double dipping had a bad odor, at least to me. The actions of the two company geologist was confusing as well since, they found humor in spending their company’s money so readily to help their “friend” out with a few extra dollars. Although not the sharpest tack in the box, everything that was done by the three geologist did not seem right, at least to me.

Upon becoming a member of a professional organization for geologist, I reviewed the amazing amount of technical material provided. I also found the organization’s code of ethics. It appeared my observation of the actions taken by the three geologist, though legal, was not ethical. Many years later, I spoke with the geological consultant for that well and in jest asked about the consulting and the double dipping, to which be replied, while laughing, he made a small fortune doing work that way. He was also proud of having accomplished triple dipping. Further disappointment was had on my part when finding that the consultant was certified in his field of interest and a member of other professional organizations which tout the integrity and ethics of their members.

In the more than thirty years since this occurred, the memory of these individuals, their decisions, and actions have never left me. I have taken several ethics courses when working on my MBA, PhD, and in continuing education hours for my professional registration and always, I think of what I witnessed. I continually ponder the “why”, and have yet to come to any semblance of an answer which I consider to be satisfactory. Each of the individuals was well paid. Each party lived within their means and did not “hot dog”. And, each party did very well, monetarily, through their careers. Perhaps, they did well in their careers because they continued to take care of their business as when I first met them or possibly because they were very good in their profession.

I did cross paths with all three of the individuals, at one time or another over the ensuing years. I never spoke of what I witnessed to anyone other than in ethics courses. I never mentioned their names and never spoke poorly of any of them to anyone. I approached dealing with them, individually, with caution and paid particular attention to every detail in any discussion. I did transact two deals with one party and, sadly, there were problems which required outside intervention to resolve the issues. Would I ever do business with that individual again? No.

Even though I was not knowledgeable as to how infractions of this nature should be addressed at the time or even for some period afterwards, I did learn a valuable lesson, if it smells, even in the least bit, it is best to step away.

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