Oil industry: catalyst for Texas-Mexico friendship?
Houston — Texas oilmen know from experience just how hard it is to convince outsiders that oil riches bring oil problems. So Mexico may find Texas a useful and sympathetic neighbor.
Oil wealth is held largely to blame for Mexico's 28.7 percent annual inflation rate for 1981. Another oil spinoff is that despite government controls , newly wealthy Mexicans jet to Texas to spend lavishly in the best stores and invest in the Texas' crop of high-rise condominiums.
High-profile Mexican spending in Texas is creating some jealousy here. But there's also a neighborly awareness of the double-edged nature of oil which:
* Sparks rapid economic growth since exporting raw oil does not require the costly infrastructure needed to set up manufacturing industry.
* Fans inflation and instability because oil provides few jobs and leaves the economy highly vulnerable to the surging tides of the world oil market.
Oilmen here say that Texas learned to protect itself by supplying the drilling equipment, technology, and financial packaging needed for oil production around the world. They say they are pleased to find Mexico also taking steps to avoid becoming overdependent on exporting a nonrenewable raw material. They see Mexico's limits on oil production as timely attempts to encourage investment in other industries.
Good ''Tex-Mex'' neighborliness may become even more important if the Reagan administration pursues plans to deport thousands of Mexicans who living in the United States on temporary immigrant visas.
Oil industry executives here say they were not surprised when Mexico switched from being an oil importer up until 1974 into the world's fourth largest oil producer today, behind only the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Mexico's oil wealth had been established as long ago as 1908, just seven years after the Spindletop gusher launched Texas as an oil producer.
Some recall that Mexico fueled the British Navy during World War I and in 1921 produced 530,000 barrels per day (b.p.d.), second only to US production of 1.3 million b.p.d.
Mexico's oil didn't disappear between 1921 and 1975. Instead, say oilmen here, Mexican oil simply remained buried under political and economic strata, waiting not for new drilling technology but for new government policies at home and abroad.
At the peak of production in the 1920s, Mexico rebelled against foreign oil companies taking large profits and leaving behind fields badly damaged by overproduction. This led to nationalization in 1938, the establishment of Mexico's own Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) oil monopoly, and a retaliatory boycott of Mexican oil by the major international companies. Drilling moved instead to Venezuela, then to the Middle East.
Mexico bided its time and oil quietly until Middle East producers began to escalate their oil prices sharply eight years ago.
That was the signal for Mexico to turn on the tap - a tap which today produces 2.5 million b.p.d. (This compares with current US production of 8.6 million b.p.d.). Even with the recent world oversupply, these exports earned $ 15 billion in 1981 and have climbed back to 1.4 million b.p.d.
Conservative estimates place Mexico's total proved reserves at 72 billion barrels of crude oil and natural gas equivalent.
Petroleum geologists explain that Mexico's oil potential is far greater since only some 10 percent of what they consider the country's promising formations has been systematically explored.