Five years ago, when the Arab oil embargo was declared, the oil international that was thought to face the most uncertain future was the Standard Oil Co. of California.
The San Francisco-based company - which in 1933 was the first company to gain a producing concession from Saudi Arabia - was more heavily dependent on Mideas crude oil than any other major, most of it coming from Saudi Arabia.
Today, though still highly dependent on Saudi crude. Socal - or Chevron, as it also is known - has managed to increase its domestic sources of energy significantly and has become perhaps the only big company looking at an expanding oil and gas production base in the U.S. Observers believe this will allow it actually to increase its domestic energy production over the next five years.
If you include Canada, where Socral made the initial discovery at West Pembina in Alberta in early 1977. Socal's hemisphiric shift in oil sources from east to west has been even more significant. Oil industry experts believe West Pembina will be the biggest oil discovery in Canada in the last 12 years.
Meanwhile, 1977 earnings of $1 billion on sales of $20.9 billion made Socal, alongwith Royal Dutch/Shell, the only companies among the seven big internationals to increase their earnings over their 1974 levels, the peak year for the industry as a whole.
Socal has had perhaps the industry's hottest hand for exploration and also has been the beneficiary of some serenpidity.
Social lost out on the bidding for Alaska' North Slope, ending up with less than one percent of the reserves.
But with large amounts of oil from Alaska arriving in California. Socal has found itself in a perfect position to process the high-sulfur crude as a result of major expansions at its two biggest West Coast refineries initiated before the 1973 embargo. The expansions originally were undertaken to handle increased shipments of high-sulfur oil from Saudi Arabia.
Socal's long-standing 20 percent interest in the Elk Hills Naval Petroleum Reserve in California also has been a positive contributor to profits, after Congress decided in 1976 to start pumping oil again from the reservoir that was the source of the 1920s Teapost Dome scandal.
This year, Socal is spending nearly $500 million on exploration, double the sum of five years ago, and two-thirds of it is going into the U.S.
"We're putting an awful lot of money on the line," said Socal Chairman H.J. Haynes. "Unless we felt very strongly about what we will find, we would not be playing these cards."
recently, while press attention was glued to Texaco's first discovery of commercial hydrocarbons in the Baltimore Canyon area of the U.S. East Coast, Socal's Chevron U.S.A. subsidiary quietly announced its fifth newfield discovery in the so-called Overthrust Belt of southwest Wyroming. The company said the field could link up with other discoveries in the area, "possibly forming a major gas field 15 miles in the length."
"The Overthrust Belt symbolizes exactly what the oil industry has been trying to tell Congress and the American people: There is still a lot of oil and gas to be found in the U.S.," commented Chevron Senior Vice President L.C. Soileau III.
Although, in the view of experts, Socal's good fortune does not mean that the overall trend of depleting U.S. oil and gas production is about to reverse itself, the company's successes have improved its prospects enormously and have made Socal one of the most popular of all the big oil company stocks on Wall Street.
Besides California and Wyroming, Socal has continued to acquire acreage in the Gulf of Mexico where it is one of the most successful producers of new natural gas, has pioneered in finding oil in the TUscaloosa Trend in Southern Louisiana, owns more than 15 percent interest in one of the largest fields in Texas, has partial interest in 13 tracts in the Baltimore Canyon, and has lease rights to 1.28 million acres in Alaska west of the Prudhoe Bay producing region.
Abroad, Socal is still one of the four Aramco concessionaries in Saudi Arabia, has a 17 percent interest in the Ninian Field in the U.K. North Sea, and has had successes in Spain, Chad and Sudan, and is a major producer in Indonesia where it operates as Caltex in partnership with Texaco.
At one point, Socal controlled all the vast resources of Saudi Arabia.
Socal alone was given the original concession over 200 million acres in Saudi Arabia in 1933, forming what was the California-Arabian Oil Co., or Calarabian, to hold the concession. When it became apparent that there was more oil than it could market, Socal invited in Texaco to help sell the oil through Caltex. After World War II, Exxon and Mobil also were invited in to form what today is Aramco.
Always known as one of the quietest and perhaps the most conservative of the "Seven Sisters" - until a few years ago even the secretaries were men - Socal has a conservatism that may have helped it to avoid some mistakes, in the view of observes.
At the same time, Socal is perhaps the least diversified of the oil majors, and that has been the source of some, frustration for the company.
Recently it has become embroiled in an attempt to take over Amax, a large producer of coal, molybdenum and other metals, which could turn out to be a test case of how fair the oil companies are allowed to go in acquiring other resource companies to diversify.