Sharpe: A Tribute to Tom Dugan

George Sharpe


George Sharpe, Merrion Oil and Gas investment manager

Like his book title – “Gas!” – Tom Dugan was both brief and understated. Alas, on Nov. 8, 2017, he left to join his wildcatting cohorts in heaven. 

Tom was a unique individual who lived by one set of rules… HIS!!  Many of his rules were etched in stone, but he wasn’t afraid to make them up as he went along.    

Here are the top 10 character traits that made this character such a character.  

1. Hardworking – Born in 1925 in a Kansas oilfield camp, Tom grew up with dirt under his fingernails and sweat on his brow. His Great Depression era upbringing led to a relentless work ethic, with the expectation that others follow suit. At Dugan Production, weekends were a misnomer because except for a short pause for a quick thank-you to God on Sunday morning, the work week really never ended. According to his grandson, Sean, Tom was literally dressed for work the morning he passed, with his last words being, “Get me to the office!”  

2. Thrifty – Again born of his humble beginnings during tough times, Tom could stretch a dime like no other.  Most of Tom’s equipment was “experienced”, so to speak.  Even to the very end, he wouldn’t hesitate to dig through the junk pile looking for a fitting if he could avoid buying a new one. And as eager as he was to go to work on his last day, he couldn’t help himself from walking down that tunnel to turn off “the light” that someone carelessly left on

Tom Dugan looks over his mineral collection in this file photo.

3. Independent – That would be VERY independent, according to longtime friend, John Dean.  Tom didn’t really like to play much with the other companies in the sandbox. Preferring to rely solely on the man in the mirror, he owned his own workover rigs, water trucks, and manufacturing and repair facility, and kept his wells duct-taped together with scavenged parts from his own supply company.  If he ever needed something, he knew who to ask.

4. Visionary – Tom always took the long view. I remember looking at Dugan Production’s assets some 20 years back and wondering what he was doing with all those marginal wells scattered through what I thought was geologic ram pasture on the southern end of the basin.  According to Kurt Fagrelius, Dugan’s VP of Exploration, the company philosophy was “never give up leases.”  Sure enough, it turned out those marginal wells held hundreds of thousands of acres that happened to be on prime real estate when the Mancos shale development came to town. Maybe I better stick to engineering.  

5. Soft Spoken –  You had to lean in sometimes to hear his voice, but you always got the message. According to VP of Operations, John Alexander, there was never any confusion over what Tom thought. When talking to Tom, “No!” was not only a complete sentence, it was often the entire conversation. 

6. Historian – From WWII battle tanks to vintage cable tool rigs, if it was old and made of iron, then Tom liked to collect it. In addition, with a title that in typical Tom fashion said it all in a one syllable word, he co-authored “Gas!”, which documents the long and colorful history of the San Juan Basin. With his passing, someone really needs to add the last chapter… HIS!

7. Patriotic – Tom served bravely in the 44th Tank Battalion during WWII, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in his service to his country. Except for the green he wore on St. Patty’s Day (he was devoutly Irish, you know), Tom was as red, white, and blue as a man could be.  

8. Generous – Tom didn’t give to everything, but if it was a cause he supported, he gave a LOT! I remember leaving a message for him concerning the United Way campaign one year. Instead of calling back, he just sent me a large check. It was another one-word conversation, but this time a “Yes!” And with the Dugan Geology Museum, the School of Energy, Mary’s Kitchen, and the SJC Foundation Scholarships as cornerstones, the San Juan College has been a major benefactor of the Dugan family’s generosity. 

9. Humble – Although Tom has been extremely impactful in the community, he always shied away from the limelight. He got his joy from helping the community and seeing his philanthropy bear fruit, not from any credit he might receive. You have to give him credit for that!

10. Larger than Life – Tom really is the last of the wildcatter generation. A number of independents made their mark through the history of the San Juan Basin, but few were as successful as Tom, and none had his longevity. He is a local legend whose unique flavor has spiced up the oil and gas industry for some 70 years.  

In closing, Tom’s passing leaves a hole in our industry, a hole in our community, and holes in our hearts. Thank you, Tom, for your amazing life of hard work, service, and generosity. Our community is a better place and we are better people for having crossed your path. See you on the other side.  

George Sharpe is an Investment Manager with Merrion Oil & Gas in Farmington.