After 56 years in business, oilman Tom Dugan keeps working for the fun of it
FARMINGTON — When Tom Dugan came to Farmington in 1952, he worked on drilling rigs in the oil field but wanted to strike out on his own.
He did so seven years later, starting Dugan Productions Corp. from the front bedroom of his North Dustin Avenue home.
And 56 years later, he's still at it.
Dugan, who will turn 90 this November, still arrives early five days a week at his current offices on East Murray Drive.
"I was born in 1925 in an oil field shack on an oil lease near Oil Hill, Kan.," Dugan said while strolling the halls of his office. He stops to point out seemingly endless rows of awards and commendations from community leaders he's received, a small museum's worth of rocks, gems and native pottery he collects, even his photographs of the Four Corners that won ribbons at the San Juan County Fair.
"I keep coming into work here mainly because of all the really nice people I get to see each day. It's because of them that keeps me coming back."
Dugan's company is a mainstay in the San Juan Basin, and Dugan, who chuckles a lot, said his success is a result of three essentials — a strong work ethic, treating people well and having oil in his blood.
Dugan's father and both his grandfathers worked in the oil patch in Kansas and Dugan started his company with consultant work and contract pumping. As his business grew, Dugan began acquiring and drilling new wells throughout the San Juan Basin.
Dugan has carried his company through boom and bust on the principle that employees must be protected as much as the leases a company owns. He also said he has ensured against any significant debt that can't be paid off in a short time.
"It's worked out pretty good," Dugan said. "I like the work. I like this basin. I don't speak English too good, but I do algebra."
One calculation that has helped sustain his company was a deal Dugan struck with the Canadian Encana Services Company that Dugan said added up to "a big deal."
"When Encana entered the San Juan Basin in 2011, partnering with Tom Dugan and Dugan Production Corp. offered a clear advantage," said Doug Hock, Encana spokesman. "Tom's lengthy experience in the basin and the respect he garners from both the industry and larger business community in Farmington made him the ideal partner for a company like Encana, operating in the area for the first time."
A history buff, Dugan wrote what many consider to be the go-to text on the San Juan Basin. He started the book project after deciding to track down the first producing well in the area.
Called "Gas," the book — which he wrote in 2002 with Emery Arnold, a geologist and former director of the state Mining and Minerals Division of the Energy and Minerals Department — charts the area's earliest exploration through four booms and an overview of the players in the industry.
Jason Sandel, vice president of Aztec Well Services, said Dugan looms large in the area in both the industry and the business community.
"On behalf of the Sandel family, my father (Jerry Sandel) and myself, we feel that Tom is a pioneer and is an inspiration and a legend," Sandel said. "When we think of Tom what stands out is his undying loyalty to doing what's right that's really displayed in how he runs his business and life and the contributions he has made to our community. Our family has been working with the Dugan family since we came here in 1957 in one way or another. It is what shaped who we are today."
Dugan — who said the drop in production that has come with the fall in crude oil prices is not a bust — prefers to focus on the work before him, not worry about tomorrow.
"We had increased activity. Three or four rigs is not a boom. It sure was nice, though," Dugan said. "The key to survival is to take care of the wells you have operating. Of course, that's what our company does — maintenance. And we'll see what comes next. It's always interesting."