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Minard Run Oil Company: Continuing 137 Years of Family Legacy
Minard Run Oil Company (MROC) remains the world’s oldest family-owned and -operated independent oil firm, having achieved an impressive 137 years in business as of 2013. Headquartered in Bradford, Pa., MROC engages in the exploration, development, production and transportation of oil and natural gas in the Appalachian region of north-central Pennsylvania.
In August 1859 drilling took place at the Drake Well in Titusville, Pa., and for the first time people witnessed a well producing “black gold”; the oil boom began. Emerging as a pioneer out of that movement, Senator Lewis Emery Jr. established MROC in 1875.
Locals familiar with the history of the Bradford region recognize Emery as the maverick oilman who outsmarted the famous John D. Rockefeller during Rockefeller’s reign over the early stages of the oil industry. Emery developed the United States Pipeline Company, which extended from Bradford to New Jersey and bypassed Rockefeller's railroad monopoly. Emery's reputation in the industry was so established that MROC has donated some of the original tools used in that first Drake Well to the Drake Well Museum in Titusville and the Bradford Oil Museum. Emery, an entrepreneur at heart, not only founded MROC, but he also founded Emery Hardware Company, Emery Manufacturing, the Emery Refinery, the Quintuple Oil Company and the American Alkali and Acid Company all by the time of his death in 1924.
In 1962 MROC achieved a milestone, completing a gas well to a depth of 11,862 feet, which at that time made it the deepest well in the entire Appalachian area. After over a century of business, MROC experienced a decline in operations in the 1980s and early 1990s. This decline is attributed to the economic conditions of the industry, declining production and the increased cost of regulations.
In 2000 MROC made a bold move to reverse the downturn. The company entered into a joint venture and began drilling in the local McKean County oil patch. MROC has since organized other joint ventures acquiring drilling programs that include over 70-plus wells per year.
A Family Legacy
Today, Emery’s four great-grandchildren now manage the family-run business. “I'm the fourth generation in the business; my brother and two sisters are also owners,” shares Frederick W. Fesenmyer, president and CEO of MROC. “Then there’s my daughter and grandson, who will continue the business as the fifth and sixth generations. There aren't too many family-run businesses with a history like ours.”
The company currently operates in Pennsylvania and New York with an employee base averaging 66 people. To Fesenmyer, MROC is built upon his dedicated employees. “Our operation is successful because of the employees,” he says. “Our company is nothing without them. We treat them like family. I treat them good, they treat me good; that's how it works. Therefore, our turnover is very minimal.”
Fesenmyer’s mentality has been adopted from his great-grandfather. “We have an open-door policy here,” continues Fesenmyer. “We're really a team here; you're not a team if you're working by yourself. As an owner, I'm just not a name on the wall. I interact with everyone. I'm here on a daily basis. They see me.”
Working as a team has allowed MROC to expand business in the past few years. The company still drills for oil on the same 15,000 acres it has for nearly a century and a half, but recently MROC purchased an additional 157,000-acre site from Chesapeake in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
The New York state acquisition consists of a natural gas formation that is about 5,000 feet deep and spans from Pennsylvania to New York. The expansion will increase acreage for MROC tenfold.
“The property will help increase our bottom line tremendously,” details Fesenmyer. “Our senior geologist is very familiar with the area, coming from New York. It's a perfect fit, both interesting and challenging.”
MROC will drill for natural gas on the acquired property. “We were able to include the deep rights,” says Fesenmyer. “We met their demands, they met ours. It took us over a year, but we finally accomplished it.” The property will increase production for MROC with over 400 existing wells on-site. “By owning the property in New York State we mitigate restrictions, like landowner royalties and leases,” he continues.
Previously MROC was operating strictly as a shallow oil producer (2,500 feet or above), but for future development the company will extend its access through partnerships with trusted, more extensively equipped subcontractors with whom the company has dealt with for years. MROC also expanded its offices for field staff in the past few months occupying a new operations center in both the Bradford District and the Finger Lakes District. All the moves are strategic and paced; however, the company has the historical perspective on how to best build its infrastructure to set and meet expectations.
MROC has seen firsthand the impact of drilling on a popular new site in a saturated market. “We're drilling wells that have the ability to produce a tremendous amount of gas, contributing to lower natural gas prices,” explains Fesenmyer. “When the Marcellus Shale play first came to light everyone from all over the country came to drill. Although there is plenty of gas to produce, you can fit only so much into a pipeline. There's no way to get all of it to market, because the present infrastructure is at capacity.”
The team at MROC doesn’t rest on its laurels. “We're always looking for new sites, but with this new purchase in New York we have plenty of opportunities to work with,” continues Fesenmyer. He goes on to note that the company could possibly establish a footprint in Kansas in the future, depending on how the New York acquisitions return on their investment.
Having drilled and produced oil and gas wells over the course of three centuries, Minard Run Oil Company remains family-run, employee-oriented and dedicated to being not only the oldest, but also the most respected independent producer in history.