Un­con­ven­tional Plank founded Apache Corp., sup­ported the arts

San Antonio Express-News - - LIFE TRIBUTES - By John C. Roper john.roper@chron.com

Ray­mond Plank, who started Apache Corp. in 1954 from ini­tial seed cap­i­tal of $250,000 and grew it to a $50 bil­lion oil and gas pro­ducer at the time of his re­tire­ment as chair­man in 2009, has died at age 96.

Plank died Thurs­day at his home near Sheri­dan, Wyo., ac­cord­ing to his fam­ily.

Apache’s cul­ture in its early days mir­rored that of Plank, who was known as a risk-taker with swag­ger.

Plank loved fast cars, and was of­ten seen puff­ing away at his pipe, smok­ing in his of­fice, the com­pany jet or in rental cars, said Tony Len­tini, a long­time spokesman for Plank at Apache.

“When he rented a car, he would have the no-smok­ing sticker pulled off of the car and stuck to his pipe,” Len­tini re­called. “Some­times, he would al­most smoke out the pi­lots on the plane.”

He brought un­con­ven­tional meth­ods to oil ex­plo­ration and pro­duc­tion, and typ­i­cally found suc­cess.

In 1981, Plank cre­ated the first pub­licly traded mas­ter lim­ited part­ner­ship, or MLP, which has since be­come widely pop­u­lar with oil and gas com­pa­nies for their tax ben­e­fits.

When Apache first be­gan to ex­plore for oil in the Qarun area of western Egypt in the early 1990s, there was no pipe­line in­fra­struc­ture to move the oil to where it could be re­fined and sold. Al­though Apache had plans to build the nec­es­sary pipe­lines, Plank couldn’t wait.

“There was no way to get the oil out, so Ray­mond de­cided to truck it across the western desert be­fore we built the pipe­line,” Len­tini said. “He wanted to mon­e­tize it at the be­gin­ning and trucked thou­sands of bar­rels a day across the desert.”

Len­tini re­called many times Ray­mond used blus­ter and “col­or­ful lan­guage” at press con­fer­ences.

“Be­ing his PR guy was a lot of fun, but he would say things just to pro­voke,” Len­tini said. “He was un­con­ven­tional to say the least.”

Plank was also pub­licly out­spo­ken about sus­pect­ing En­ron Corp. of foul play years be­fore the com­pany col­lapsed in an ac­count­ing scan­dal.

“That was a big deal,” re­called Len­tini. Every­body be­lieved En­ron hung the moon. Ray­mond had the courage to say, ‘We’re go­ing to ex­pose this be­cause this is wrong.’ ”

Plank was born in 1922 and served as a bomber pi­lot in the Pa­cific in World War II be­fore re­turn­ing to grad­u­ate from Yale.

Plank au­thored a mem­oir in 2012 ti­tled “A Small Dif­fer­ence” that out­lines many of his ad­ven­tures as a Texas wild­cat­ter.

“He called his mem­oir ‘A Small Dif­fer­ence,’ but he made a big dif­fer­ence in many peo­ple’s lives,” said his son, Roger Plank, founder and CEO of Apex In­ter­na­tional En­ergy, a Hous­ton oil and gas com­pany.

Ray­mond Plank for the past sev­eral years had been liv­ing near Sheri­dan and was pas­sion­ate about the nearby Ucross Foun­da­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion he founded in 1981. Ucross is lo­cated on a his­toric 20,000-acre cat­tle ranch on the high plains in Wy­oming and pro­vides workspace and liv­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions to artists, writ­ers and com­posers.

Sev­eral ac­claimed works were cre­ated in part dur­ing artist res­i­den­cies at Ucross lo­cated in north­east­ern Wy­oming, in­clud­ing An­nie Proulx’s “The Ship­ping News” and Eliz­a­beth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love.”

“Ray­mond was a force of na­ture,” said Sharon Dy­nak, pres­i­dent of the Ucross Foun­da­tion, adding that “he trans­formed the lives of thou­sands of artists whose work has in­flu­enced the cul­ture of the world.”

Plank was also said to have a life­time affin­ity for learn­ing, and in 2001, he cre­ated Fund for Teach­ers, a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Hous­ton that helps de­velop teach­ing skills. He also de­vel­oped a pro­gram to build 200 oneroom schools in Western Egypt for girls.

Plank was a na­tive of Min­neapo­lis where he founded an ac­count­ing and tax ser­vice that man­aged oil and gas in­vest­ment pro­grams that even­tu­ally mor­phed into Apache, which to­day has a mar­ket cap of about $14 bil­lion.

Staff file photo

Ray­mond Plank grew Apache Corp. into a $50 bil­lion oil and gas pro­ducer.

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