The Businessman Behind the Monuments Men

Feb 7, 2014

In the movie The Monuments Men, a Hollywood “A List” of actors including George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray don the roles of soldiers racing across Europe searching for art stolen by the Nazis.

This little-known story would’ve remained hidden to the general public if it wasn’t for the work of Robert Edsel, author of three books on the subject: Rescuing Da Vinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe’s Great Art; The Monuments Men; and Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures From the Nazis.

But before telling this story, Edsel ran an energy company. His Gemini Exploration pioneered the use of horizontal drilling, as Leah Churner at the Texas Observer wrote:

In the early 1980s he entered the oil and gas business with his brother, Jim, who had studied petroleum land management at the University of Texas. Together, the Edsel brothers founded the Gemini Exploration Company (a pun on “Jim and I”), one of the first Texas upstarts to successfully exploit newly developed horizontal-drilling technologies in the notoriously unproductive “Austin chalk” oilfields of Bastrop, Giddings and La Grange. At its peak, Gemini had 100 employees.

On Forbes.com, David Blackmon explains that this technological innovation "can replace the need to drill a dozen or even more vertical wells to access a similar level" of oil and natural gas. For the environment, "this means far less air emissions, far less water usage and disposal needs, and far less land impacted."

In the late 1990s, George Mitchell combined horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing to successfully develop shale formations, leading to the shale energy boom we’re seeing across the country.

Edsel sold Gemini Exploration to Union Pacific Resources in 1995, moved to Europe, discovered a taste for art, and the rest is history.

Many people are lucky to make one significant contribution to society. Edsel was fortunate enough to make two: One by starting a successful and innovative energy company, then another by using the fortune he earned to help us learn how courageous men saved our cultural heritage.

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