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Oil is where you find it - but first you have to find it

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The oil-finder lives by his imagination, and he is not plagued by doubt.

He has a certain quality, unnamable to many of those who have it, that possesses him to gamble hundreds of thousands of dollars and more on a picture in his mind's eye of how it was -- thousands of feet down -- millions of years ago.

Once it was called doodlebugging, after the ''doodlebug'' sticks oil seekers would use like divining rods. Now finding oil has grown more important, more scientific, and more lucrative than ever before. The hunt is accelerating toward the fervid pace of the early 1950s. It is drawing students to geology like moths to light. It is luring geologists from the major oil companies, where they got their experience, to independent firms, where they get a piece of the action.

What Victor Church sees as he drives the long, straight roads through the cotton fields of the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley -- California's fruit basket -- is not cotton or long straight roads. He sees ridges, pools, and slopes a mile and two miles straight down: the mountains and streams of millenniums ago.

Or rather, he imagines them. He has worked among them for years and he will never see them.

What he will do is put a pinhole in the plain -- a well -- over 7,000 feet deep and a mile away from the safe company of his present, working wells, and see if the oil field extends that far. The drilling alone will cost a quarter-million dollars. He has wanted to try it for years.

Victor Church is an independent petroleum geologist. He looks for oil. He has his own projects and he consults for others and does various combinations of the two.

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