SAN ANTONIO — THE three-dimensional seismic map detailing numerous potential gas fields on Exploration Company acreage is like a blank check that the shoestring operation cannot cash without help.
If this were the good old days, which ended here in the oil patch more than a dozen years ago, chairman Steve Gose would not be showing the map of Maverick County land to visitors. Instead, he could get a Texas bank to finance his drilling program. He would offer as collateral his latest well, currently producing 1 million cubic feet of gas per day and capable of twice that output.
Back then, bankers ``were so thick around me, I had to whip them off with a stick,'' Mr. Gose recalls. ``They haven't come to see me lately.''
Gose lost much of his fortune in the oil and real estate crash of the 1980s. That financial disaster also clobbered the state's banking industry. Surviving banks and newcomers have been reluctant to lend money for oil development, although some are showing interest lately. Meanwhile, Gose must attract investors to his company.
``We have to get our light out from under a bushel,'' he says.
In the really good old days, Gose would have simply paid for the wells out of his formerly well-lined pocket. Gose has found more than a trillion cubic feet of gas since 1951. At one time, he says, he was worth half a billion dollars.
Not anymore. Gone are his 16 ranches, his Lear jets, and the land northeast of San Antonio where he built his home, his corporate headquarters, a tennis club, and the world's largest polo club.
Traumatic, yes, but the comedown has also been ``kind of fun,'' Gose says. He has more time for his nine grandchildren now that he's not jetting off to Europe to play polo.
Marty Gose, Steve's wife, summons her husband to a telephone call from a potential financial backer. In 43 years of marriage, Marty never held a job. Now she answers telephones at The Exploration Company.
``We're busy raising money in there,'' Gose explains when he returns. ``Unfortunately, that's what you have to do when you're poor.''
Gose has no qualms about his ability to raise cash. Thanks to the promise of the Maverick County leases, he says, ``we can get whatever money we need.''
Gose is not willing to bring in other oil companies as partners, though, because they would want control. ``We've got to be cautious how we get the money so we don't give that jewel away,'' he says.