As the first woman to run a big American oil company, Vicki Hollub has quickly made Occidental Petroleum leaner, smarter, gentler--and poised to gusher cash for the next half-century.
South Curtis Ranch is an 11,000-acre "unit" that Occidental Petroleum operates in the Permian Basin, a 300-mile swath of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that produces a quarter of America's oil. Here, cattle placidly masticate as hundreds of 20-foot-tall "nodding donkeys" suck up oil and gas from deposits 2 miles down. Oxy's pumps are gray with red tops--a well-gauger might describe his day as having been spent "chasing redheads." North winds whip up dust from truck tires crunching on the work roads. A storm-chasing group issues a flaming-tumbleweed warning. That's no joke to Vicki Hollub, the chief executive officer of Occidental. Just 5-foot-5, Hollub strides with authority to a lineup of nervous roughnecks, all men. She shakes hands and listens intently as the foreman recites the safety briefing. Everyone wears steel-toe shoes and flame-retardant coveralls. Hollub refuses a photographer's request to take off her hard hat and safety glasses for a few pictures. "Not going to happen," she says, tucking blond hair under the rim.
Hollub, 57, feels at home here. A decade ago, she was running Oxy's entire million-acre Permian position. The work consisted mostly of injecting carbon dioxide into 100-year-old shallow, conventional fields to coax out the more stubborn oil. Then came advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing that enabled oil companies to unlock deeper, trickier oil-soaked rock. Output from the Permian has doubled in the past five years to 2.5 million barrels a day (bpd), with hundreds of new rigs deployed even in a world of $45 oil.