‘Magic’ oil man to be on TV tonight
Instincts that earned Jim Mietchen the nickname "magic man" have now landed him a spot on a cable television series.
His "magic man" techniques of finding oil in Kansas sparked the interest of Discovery Channel. The Baldwin City man will be one of three featured on "Wildcatters," which begins at 9 p.m. today.
"They filmed us for 30 days out there with two cameras," Mietchen said. "What they did was put us in a race with two other companies to see which one could drill the quickest and find oil. You'll have to watch the program to see the conclusion."
The crew was filmed for a month while drilling for oil near Dighton. They have numerous wells in western Kansas, but that one was filmed for the show.
Mietchen and his wife, Debbie Mietchen, have watched the unedited version of the program already, but they are interested in viewing the final cut.
"We've seen it already, so it's not new to us anymore," Jim said. "Unless they add more to it. It turned out pretty favorable."
Debbie said the film crew put her on the spot during the filming. She said if they didn't find oil in that location, it was her fault. She wasn't too sure she liked that type of pressure.
"I thought it turned out pretty good," Debbie said. "They put some pressure on me a little bit. I kind of feel like it was on my shoulders, because they would ask if I was right or not about our drilling spot."
While working in western Kansas, Mietchen's crew was working nearly around the clock. Jim said the long hours were tough to handle for 30 days, especially with the cameras around all of the time.
"We were going about 18 hours a day," Jim said. "It's a lot of work. Plus, we are under the scrutiny of the cameras all of the time. You are tired and you can see in there we look tired. It was fun though."
After filming for 30 days in western Kansas, the Discovery Channel crew told Mietchen they might return to film for a follow-up episode. He is waiting to hear from the executives, who are waiting to see if he digs another oil well.
"They are thinking about coming back out and doing a follow up on our next well," Jim said. "They called us and asked us if we would participate in another series. We are going to drill a deep-test well; at least that is our plan anyway."
What is a wildcatter?
By definition a wildcatter is a person who drills oil wells in areas that are not in advance known to be oil fields. The Mietchens have their own opinion of what a wildcatter is in the oil business.
"A true wildcatter uses nothing but instincts," Debbie said. "The other two companies used scientific methods to find their spot. Our science is gut instinct."
They both choose to find their oil without much, if any, science. They prefer maps and their "magic" instincts.
The basement of their Baldwin City home is filled with hundreds of maps of Kansas counties. Each one is marked with numerous colored pins and markings that hold their own meaning with the Mietchens.
"I think science is great and it has a certain degree of validity, but I don't think it's reliable," Jim said.
The Mietchens have their reasons for not relying on science to find oil. However, Jim did say that to be a great discoverer of oil, one must use a combination of science and instincts.
"When you are using scientific interpretation, some expert has to give you his interpretation of the scientific data," Jim said. "I found out when I would use the experts, the results didn't come out as good as when I used my own judgment.
"I think those scientific methodologies like 3D seismic, satellite imaging, radar and some of these exotic things all have their place out there as tools, but they're not absolute," Jim said. "There is no single method that is going to tell you where oil is. It's kind of a consolidation of instincts, research and some basic scientific data."
Another reason Jim chose to be a wildcatter is because the Mietchens prefer to take their own path together. They don't like to follow what another person or company has done. Jim compares it to a herd of cattle, where most of the cows follow the rest of the herd.
"I call it the herd mentality," Jim said. "Whatever the first guy does, the herd follows him. We deviate from the herd. We go off on our own. That's what you've got to do in this business, think outside the box. You've got to blaze your own trail out here. I've listened to all of the advice I can possibly get my hands on, but ultimately the decision rests in our hands."
Beginning the business
That decision to blaze their own trail is what led the Mietchens to enter in the oil business nearly 25 years ago. It was also that attitude that had family and friends telling them they were crazy for switching to the oil business from the world of real estate.
During the early '80s, the Mietchens noticed rising interest rates and were afraid of a drop in the real estate business. That prompted a change in professions to something Jim had always found fascinating.
"I have always been interested in oil and gas, so we said that is what we were going to do," Jim said. " Everybody said we were crazy because we didn't know anything about it."
His decision to jump into the oil business came from a meeting he had with oil tycoon Ross Perot. Jim spent half of a day in Perot's office asking him how he was able to be so successful. Jim remembers the advice as if they met yesterday.
"He said 'too many people spend all of their time in planning everything out and not enough time in actually doing it. If you got an idea, jump on it and work it out as you go,'" Jim said. "That's basically what we did. We just learned as we went and it worked out well for us."
They began their drilling near their home, which was Ottawa at the time. They drilled nearly 100 wells in Franklin and Douglas counties for several years and had success.
"We hit oil about 95 percent of the time, which is extraordinary," Jim said. "Generally you hit one well out of every 10, if you are lucky. We were successful with our first 35 wells before we hit a dry hole."
They drilled oil in the two eastern Kansas counties for several years before selling the wells. The price of oil dropped significantly in the late '80s, forcing them to sell their business.
"We sold the remaining 110 wells in 1988," Jim said. "Then we waited for the price to get better until we got back into it. When it got down to $9 or $10 a barrel, it wouldn't pay for itself. You can't continue a business if you're not making any money, at least breaking even. We took a break from it, but now we're back with both feet in the barrel."
After being away from the business for more than a decade, the Mietchens got back into the oil business less than two years ago. One of the main reasons was the price of oil, although making large sums of money isn't what they want anymore.
"It's not really about the money, it's about the challenge," Jim said. "The money will take care of itself. If you like what you are doing, the money will follow in behind it. I'd be doing it if there was no money involved, as long as it didn't break me."
More than money
Although the Mietchens left the oil business because of falling prices and returned with higher prices, becoming filthy rich isn't their plan. They simply want to make enough to live a comfortable life, but nothing like they lived at one time during the '80s.
"Making a lot of money is not all it's cracked up to be," Debbie said. "We just want to be comfortable for retirement."
During their successful stretch run in the '80s, the Mietchens became wealthy, too wealthy for their liking. They enjoyed the money, because they were able to help people in need, but the wealth also brought problems.
"I don't want to make big bucks anymore," Debbie said. "It was not fun. I always thought it would be, but it's not fun. We would go out to eat just wanting to have a quiet dinner to ourselves. We would have people coming up and talking to us about making a deal.
"We would even go out of town and the same thing would happen," Debbie said. "When we would go out to the farms, everybody learned our route. At one time, we had two trucks blocking the road to stop us so they could talk about a deal they wanted us to get into."
The Mietchens also gave a lot of money to people in need, especially elderly women who were widowed. They wanted to assist others with their money. Unfortunately, not everyone they helped needed the assistance, which is one of their primary reasons for not wanting to live that lifestyle again.
"We gave a lot of money away to help other people," Debbie said. "We also had some people tell us that they can't make rent and they have hungry kids. We got conned quite a bit, too. Come to find out the guy was spending the money at the beer joint. It was things like that."
Now the Mietchens are living in Baldwin City and living a comfortable life. They rely on their instincts and "magic" to make their life, but they wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love it here," Debbie said. "It's a nice place to live with friendly people."