Creating the Opportunity Within: Susan Morrice and Belize Natural Energy

By Emily Haggstro,

It’s mid-September in Denver and there’s a fog that has settled around the city. A light dust of snow meanders across the sky, disappearing the moment it hits the ground, and dew has slowly turned to frost, giving everything green, tips of white. The wistful nature of the day is enough to make me sleepy. Even the weight of the barometric pressure feels like it’s pushing me back to a place of warmth, back to my bed.

Breaking through the mist, like a tendril in the sidewalk, dressed in yoga pants and a bright yellow-hooded sweatshirt, springs Susan Morrice, with a smile so big and eyes so warm that the snow seems to disappear. “Come inside dear, can I get you a spot of tea,” lilts the Irish native, as she quickly pulls the kettle from the stove and fills it with water before an answer can escape my lips. “Tell me, did you find the place alright?” she inquires. Truthfully, I probably had a harder time finding her home, a hidden wonderland retreat nestled in the city, than she did finding the first oil reserves ever discovered in Belize.

As I wait for my tea, Morrice buzzes about the kitchen, talking about what she’s already accomplished by 10 a.m. in management meetings, phone calls to Belize, and time with her granddaughter, who she’s babysitting since her mother’s sick and “needs the rest.” Within moments another guest joins us, a friend and business associate, who is writing a keynote introduction for Morrice, a perfect meeting to kill two birds with one stone. There is a pronounced efficiency to her schedule. And now it’s my turn. I’m next on her list.

We begin by talking traditional commodities, a topic Morrice is more than familiar with as a trained geologist turned oil tycoon. She came to the U.S. from war-torn Belfast as a trained geologist, searching for a freedom of spirit, the American dream. It wasn’t long before she started working for some of the biggest names in the oil industry and traveling the world as a well-site geologist in locales like the Far East, Africa and Europe, speaking to governments and businesses about their hydrocarbon potential as well as business futures. Morrice was establishing a name for herself and leaving her tenacious appetite for complex shale plays at the tables of these leaders around the world.

At around the age of 29, fast-tracked by the progress in her professional career and in search of her own entrepreneurial spirit, Morrice started her own consulting company, S. Morrice and Associates. From her invaluable experience digging into wildcat plays, overthrusts and offshore frontier basins, where she saw opportunities others had passed up, Morrice was able to make quick decisions and get in front of the pack. The amount of business that resulted from her time spent as a well-site geologist traveling the world had thrust her into broad circles and businesses she could have never expected. “The trust and belief these people had in me propelled me on further and were the key components to my success,” Morrice said.

Morrice’s ambition and liberal thinking steered her to Belize. Always ahead of the pack and armed with an anything-is-possible mentality, Morrice made a bid for Shell Oil’s large seismic offshore database. Teamed up with Deminex, Petrofina (now Totál), Magellan and Dover, based out of Texas, the group spent $15 million and drilled down into some of the deepest water, not only in Belize but also in the whole of Central America at the time. They received interesting shows, but they didn’t strike commercial oil. With 50 dry holes, this confirmed what Shell and other majors had already discovered: there was no commercial oil in Belize.

Carrying on and subconsciously feeling stifled, Morrice attended a seminar in 2002 called Educo, the Latin root word for education meaning; to draw out from within. At Educo, Morrice understood how the mind works and what holds some of us back while allowing others to move forward.

It brought her back to a quote from Wallace Pratt, “‘Oil is found in the minds of men,’ and that phenomena,” she continued, “has followed me … and I really feel today that I know exactly what Wallace Pratt meant, and how you can understand the workings of our minds, employ that understanding, and align them in the discovery of our natural resources of the earth and within ourselves,” Morrice resounded. The seminar awoke her passion and helped her align her thoughts. For Morrice, her understanding of the past was necessary to be effective in the present and not for learning lessons, but to drill down to the core and understand our true nature.

While everyone else had walked away from Belize, Morrice was still convinced there was oil to be found. As a geologist and wrought with the understanding of the greater Mexican Basin, Morrice continued her fevered quest, tracing the plate tectonics of the region back to Belize and the country’s limestone formations. With her new depth of understanding born from the Educo seminar, she relentlessly pushed for the first discovery, oftentimes alienating herself and garnering negative criticism from peers within the industry who believed she was wasting time and money. “Some even said I was ruining my career,” Morrice airily recalled.

Armed with their Educo training and committed to the belief that finding oil was about something bigger than themselves, Morrice along with her partner and local engineer, Mike Usher, pushed back against all odds. They formed Belize Natural Energy, and with a group of 76 originators who had also attended the Educo seminar, raised just enough money to drill two wells.

Devoted to their work and the Belizean community, the team went to work, but in the midst of their progress, on June 24, 2004, Usher passed away. Determined to persevere and accomplish their unified dream, Morrice carried on. Exactly one year later, Morrice realized that dream. “It was to the day, on June 24, 2005, we hit oil on our very first well, unheard of in the industry” Morrice says with tears in her eyes, “I know Mike was right there with us. We promptly named that first well ‘Mike Usher #1.’” The discovery well along with two additional confirmation wells were aptly called Mike Usher #2 and #3 respectively, in his honor. Through practical application and the realization of their own potential, Morrice and her team proved to their skeptics that the country of Belize did in fact have oil.

“We had created opportunity within for the people of Belize and we were doing it under a new, holistic business model,” Morrice extolled. Belize Natural Energy (BNE) became the operating venture for oil in Belize, employing nearly 200 Belizean natives. The holistic business model represents the freedom of spirit, whether through business, family or life. It’s about touching the essence of the people and a deep-rooted place of the community. By understanding the minds of their teams, all BNE employees become partners, representing replicable building blocks for sustainability. “We have a commitment to the community and all the indirect jobs and services that come with having this business here,” beamed Morrice.

By 2008, crude oil sales accounted for almost 60 percent of Belize’s export earnings, sending oil to Costa Rica, Panama and the U.S. Gulf Coast. By 2012, there were 20 operable wells producing close to 2,500 barrels of oil per day. And two years later that number has doubled to 5,000 barrels of oil per day, with crude oil hovering just short of $100 per barrel. In a country the size of Massachusetts, with a population less than the city of Wichita, Kansas, BNE is the number one revenue source in the country responsible for taking Belize out of an impending financial crisis.

What was once a scrubby field nine years ago in the Iguana Creek area, located in the Cayo District of Belize, now sits BNE’s international headquarters. And while 18 foreign companies hold contracts to explore in Belize, BNE is still the only oil company producing and exporting oil in the country. As the sole producer and exporter, BNE and its team have had to build out the entire infrastructure associated with modern production, transportation, processing, and refining. In nine short years, BNE has discovered two oil fields, built and operates a centeral gathering facility with independent power generation, constructed a gas and processing plant producing LPG as well as building an 80,000 barrel storage and port facility for BNE crude exports.

They have also increased additional revenue streams throughout the community by creating indirect jobs in the area. As an example, in the interest of holistic business practice and the company’s entrepreneurial spirit, the company co-signed loans on trucks for locals who wanted to start their own businesses transporting crude across the country.

“At BNE, it’s all about the community and the people.” Morice states, “We listen to the requirements of this community and give back through projects and by unlocking the potential of the people through student loans, scholarships, as well as extending invitations to the Educo Seminar, so that BNE and our community are in alignment with the dreams of the Belizean people and the country itself.” According to Morrice, BNE is now uniquely positioned to replicate its successful model and people centered approach to become the total energy solution in Central America, the Caribbean, and beyond.