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Raymond Plank, colorful founder of Apache Corp., dies at 96

November 10, 2018

Raymond Plank, who started Apache Corp. in 1954 from 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 96.

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

Houston-based 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, that has since become 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 available 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,” Lentini recalled. “Everybody believed Enron hung the moon. Raymond had the courage to say, ‘We’re going to expose this because this is wrong.’ ”

While Plank has not been active at Apache for many years, his presence is still felt at the company.

“For the many of us at Apache who knew him, and the many more whose lives he touched, we remember Raymond as a visionary leader and a strong, passionate and caring man. His leadership, courage, generosity and integrity are central to the core values he instilled at Apache, and they continue to guide us today. We send our deepest condolences to the Plank family,” said Apache Corporation CEO and President John Christmann.

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 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, including E. 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 also had 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 one-room 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 capitalization of about $14 billion. In recent years, Apache has shed several large assets, including in Canada and the offshore Gulf of Mexico, to focus on its core assets in the Permian Basin, U.K. North Sea and Egypt.

john.roper@chron.com

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