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The Texas Roundup in Mongolia

September 23, 2021

On May 7, 1990, President George H.W. Bush announced his intention to nominate Texan, Joseph Edward Lake, to be the first resident U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia. Although President Bush was not born in Texas, he was readily adopted by the state when he entered the oil business there. By the way, he was the kind of guy every Texan should aspire to be whom I was fortunate enough to meet personally.  

During Ambassador Lake’s tenure in Mongolia, I arrived to seek an oil exploration concession which was the first western appearance in that industry in the country’s history. For all of us, it was a strange time to attempt to do most anything in Mongolia. My nickname was the “Indiana Jones” of the oil industry and I tried to live up to all expectations.   

In any event, Ambassador Joe Lake and his wife are shown below boarding a train from Beijing to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia. Note the cowboy hat which the people of Mongolia absolutely adored. By the way, Joe Lake is a Texan and a graduate of Texas Christian University in the former cow town of Fort Worth, Texas where the original Snyder Oil and I created SOCO International with a handshake. My guess is the Lake boxes contained food as that was something we all took to Mongolia in that era.  

I met Joe Lake in early 1993 while I was in Ulaan Bataar negotiating and personally typing the first oil production sharing contract in the country’s history. It was a bizarre experience in that there were no telephone connections to the United States. Over the course of twenty-four hours, I would personally type cables in the hotel communications center to Joey back home to give me the instructions to move pages and sections of the model form petroleum agreement in WordPerfect. At the end of the period, I printed it on a miniature, portable printer and took it to the Petroleum Authority of Mongolia for signature. The first comment out of the mouth of Chairman Sengee was the pages were not numbered and I responded that I did not know how so he could do it by hand--never lose the edge.  We signed and then he asked what was next? 

Everyone was puzzled as to how this event would be made known to the Government of Mongolia as it required the ratification by Parliament to become law.  My response was to invite everyone in the news media to a cocktail party and reception where I would make a presentation with overhead slides. It was on television and in every Mongolian newspaper, but no one knew what to do following that. In fact, the signing was picked up by Reuters News Service and the President of Snyder Oil sent a telex and said, “What are you doing as we are in the midst of a financing and in a closed period for news flow.” My response was apparently strong and most likely profane as we never had an issue after that time. The counter-party Mongolian signatory, Dr. Sengee, and I are shown later in a more relaxed setting at the UB airport. Thanks to the high altitude of Mongolia, I developed cataracts which required lens implants and enabled me to lose the glasses. 

In the spring of 1993, Prime Minister Jasrai of Mongolia met with Ambassador Joe Lake to discuss what preparations he should make prior to his visit to the U.S. to meet President Clinton. Joe told me he said to Jasrai, “If you have any contracts or agreements with U.S. companies, you should have them ratified by your Parliament beforehand.” Fortunately, Jasrai had the contract ratified by Parliament. As a result, we initiated our exploration activities forming a Mongolian seismic contractor and several years later drilled wells which launched a period of oil discoveries and energy supplies to Mongolia. 

The next chapter involved the President of Mongolia, Punsalmaagin Orchibat who became a good friend. He was invited to Houston where we gave him a cowboy hat while at the Petroleum Club as it does not get more Texan or oilier than that. Interestingly, Joey is pointing to the young man next to her who became the next Prime Minister and a close friend.  Another dear friend is Galsan Enkhbold, standing on my side of the table who was the “official photographer.”  He went on to become the Chairman of the Petroleum Authority of Mongolia. 

Just to show you it was not always fancy Petroleum Clubs with Mongolian government officials, Orchibat joined me in the steppe of Mongolia to dedicate the drilling of the first modern oil well in the country’s history. The rig was from China to Orchibat’s chagrin as he was fearful of the Chinese and comfortable with the Russians.  To counteract his views, I invited the head of the Russian State Oil Company to Mongolia to hunt. I asked him to tell Orchibat that Russia, at that time, could not organize lunch, much less move a drilling rig into Mongolia, which he did without hesitation.  

The young man on Joey’s left in the Petroleum Club, later the Prime Minister of Mongolia, went on to inspect drilling rigs in Texas to see what the business was all about. The gentleman at the top of the derrick steps, Bill Penttila, was a very close friend and personal Buddha who defined the petroleum potential of Mongolia, conned me to make it work and died in my arms there in February 2001. 

You may ask why are you telling us this now? Recently, The Foreign Service Journal published an article entitled Diplomats Make a Difference: The U.S. and Mongolia, 1986-1990 which resurrected that period in my mind. You should know that I seldom have found governments to be helpful in most anything I have ever done. However, I am thankful to whomever can do something for the common cause of everyone.  Well done Joe—not sure I ever thanked you!

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