Graduate masters art of oil business

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Clancy Cottman ’77 (fine art photography) has started four oil and gas companies from the ground up.

When Clancy Cottman was a student at RIT, he made art from scratch through his photography. Today, he builds wealth from scratch in the oil and gas business.

Cottman ’77 (fine art photography) has started four oil and gas companies from the ground up since he worked a summer in the early 1980s on an oil tanker in the Gulf of Mexico for Sun Exploration and Production Co.

“You are taking different elements, including engineering, geology, geophysics, and you are creating something,” he said. “Building from scratch is what I like about this business and what I enjoyed about art.”

After getting his undergraduate degree, Cottman made his living as a photographer, making custom murals, advertising prints and even album covers for Handel’s Messiah. But he found himself interested in business, so he enrolled in night school at the University of Rhode Island to work on an MBA in finance. After he graduated in 1982, he returned to Sun Co.

“It was interesting because most of these people, all they had were business degrees,” he said. “You didn’t find people with a varied background. I was an unusual duck at that time.”

He had talent in the exploration part of the business, which involved combining science, technology and relationship building to get a project drilled.

But after a few years, Cottman said, he realized a big company wasn’t the right environment for him, so he left to start a new one. It’s a pattern that would repeat itself throughout his career.

At Benton Oil and Gas, which he and colleagues took public in 1989, Cottman got to use all of his skills.

The vice president of business development negotiated deals and moonlighted as the company’s photographer, shooting its annual reports. The company grew quickly, becoming one of the first to go into Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and finding success in Venezuela.

In 1997, he left that now large company and founded PetroFalcon Corp., which focused on projects in Venezuela. In 2005, he sold PetroFalcon and the next year started NiMin Energy Corp., which he sold in 2012. Today, he’s the managing director at Chisholm Partners, which is focusing on projects in Kansas, New Mexico and west Texas.

Cottman said to be successful in the oil and gas business, a person has to be an optimist. Even after years of research and preparation, a well can turn up dry. But there are success stories.

Cottman’s favorite happened in the early ’90s in Venezuela where a predicted 20 million barrel oil field turned out be 200 million barrels of oil.

Along with optimism, he said, a key to success is passion.

“You can’t make yourself fit into something. I couldn’t fit into a big oil company,” he said. “You have to find something that gets you excited every morning to go to the office. After all these years I still really enjoy what I do.”