MURRAY, WILLIAM JAMES (1915 ~ 2004). William James "Bill" Murray, Jr., member and chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, was born February 17, 1915, in Coleman, Texas, to William James, Sr. and Virginia McGowan Murray. Growing up in the oil fields of northwest Texas, by his father's side, Murray, naturally, became interested in the oil business. After graduating from Cisco High School as the salutatorian in 1931, he was awarded a scholarship to attend Simmons College, now Hardin-Simmons University, in Abilene. After two years, in 1933, he transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where he enrolled in the newly created Petroleum Engineering department. In 1936, after receiving his undergraduate degree, he continued his studies at UT and earned a Master's degree in Petroleum Engineering, graduating with the first class - four students - to the complete the program. While at UT, he was awarded the Dean's medal for the highest number of grade points in the Engineering School (a record that stands today), as well as the Distinguished Graduate award of the UT School of Engineering.
Murray's devotion to the College of Engineering continued throughout his life, and in 1989, the William J. "Bill" Murray Endowed Chair of Engineering was established by several of his industry friends. Matched by university funds, the program now funds six or more projects per year, in all engineering disciplines.
After teaching petroleum engineering and doing research work at UT, Murray joined his father in Abilene and worked for Brannon Oil and Gas as an engineer, geologist, and lease superintendent. During this time, he courted Miss Emma Jo Newton of Burkett, Texas, who was a freshman at John Tarleton College, now Tarleton State University. They were later married in 1939.
In July, 1939, Murray returned to Austin to work for the Railroad Commission of Texas as a senior petroleum engineer. During this time, he was labeled a "conservationist." Knowing that Texas' oil would not last forever, he worked to conserve and preserve the driving force behind Texas' economy. He also worked to prevent companies from flaring, or burning off the natural gas that was a by product in drilling for oil. He proved that the amount of gas being burned was a waste of a natural resource, prevented a loss of pressure in the oil reservoir, and was an economic waste of what could be a valuable resource.
In 1941, Murray left the Commission to work for the Petroleum Administration for War during World War II. In Washington, D. C., he worked as a liaison between the federal government and the petroleum regulatory bodies in Texas and five other states. He was charged with seeing that oil needed for the war effort was available. While there, he brought up the issue of flaring. The officials at the Federal Power Commission, the predecessor to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, listened to his arguments and deferred to the Railroad Commission of Texas, then the pre-eminent oil regulatory body in the world. Upon hearing this, Murray, realized that he could better serve the oil industry in Texas and returned to Austin and the Railroad Commission.
Upon his return in 1945, Murray was named chairman of a Gas Conservation Engineering Committee that was created to study the escalating crisis of natural gas and liquid hydrogen carbon waste. The committee presented their report in November 1945, and showed that fifty-seven percent of Texas' total gas output was being burned. As his concerns were heard, more and more people in the oil industry began to prescribe to Murray's ideas on flaring, though some still vehemently opposed them. One of his supporters was Railroad Commissioner Beauford Jester, who was also campaigning for Governor of Texas.
Jester was elected Governor in 1945, and, after taking office in 1946, he appointed Murray to fill his seat on the Commission. Murray, at age 31, was the youngest person to ever serve as a member of the Railroad Commission of Texas. He took his oath of office on January 21, 1947, and, finally, had the political authority to put an end to flaring. Initially thinking that he would only serve for two years, he quickly realized implementing his ideas would take more time. He served 16 years, six of which as chairman, and was elected to the Commission on five different occasions: 1947, 1948, 1950, 1956. and 1962.
Murray, after taking office, along with the other commissioners, Ernest O. Thompson and Olin W. N. Culberson, ordered all oil fields to be shut down until gas recovery and treating facilities could be installed. With this act, the commissioners quickly became the most hated men in Texas, but were ultimately credited with creating the world-wide natural gas industry.
Following his November 6, 1962 election, Murray's involvement in the oil industry, while serving as a member of the state's regulatory committee, was called into question by newly elected Governor John Connally. Connally asked Attorney General Waggoner Carr to launch an investigation, which led to Murray's resignation on April 10, 1963. However, he was later vindicated by the grand jury, when they could find no evidence of any wrong doing.
Following his resignation from the Commission, Murray served the City of Austin, City Public Services of San Antonio, and numerous other groups as an energy consultant and conservationist. He was also a widely sought after speaker, who addressed the Dallas Petroleum Club at its annual meeting for fifty-four consecutive years. In 1973, he chaired the Volunteer Gas Allocation, which, in 1986, was expanded to become the Energy Reliability Council, which now includes gas, fuel oil, nuclear, lignite, coal, and hydrogen. In June of 1995, in recognition of his impact in the energy industry, the Texas Railroad Commission designated its new district office building in Kilgore, as the William J. "Bill" Murray, Jr. Building.
Aside from his distinguished career in the oil and gas industry, Murray was an enthusiastic member and leader in the Presbyterian church. A member of University Presbyterian Church for 72 years, he served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; a Moderator of the Synod of Texas, Presbyterian Church, U. S. A. and was instrumental in securing Presbyterian MoRanch Assembly for the denomination, for which he served as its board president.
William J. "Bill" Murray, Jr. passed away on Tuesday, August 3, 2004, and was buried in the Texas State Cemetery three days later. He was survived by his wife of 65 years, Jo Newton Murray, as well as his children, Jo Anna Schultz, Marsha Wilson, Janice Stoley, and Bill Murray, III, and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Information taken from: Barbara Shook, Murray's Vision Contributes to Flaring's End, Natural Gas Week, January 7, 2002; Member Profile: Bill Murray, http://www.tipro.org/target/junetarg/murray.htm; William Murray: 1915 - 2004: Former railroad commissioner admired as 'gentleman and hard worker', Austin American-Statesman, Wednesday, August 4, 2004; obituary, Austin American-Statesman, August 5, 2004; and various articles obtained from the Railroad Commission of Texas Library.