They shared their stories: from left, Bill Barrett,
Michel T. Halbouty, Robbie Gries, Marvin Davis and Thomas Barrow.
Humor, tales of woe, euphoric moments
of success relived -- it was all there at the recent Legends in
Wildcatting 2003 event sponsored by the Houston Geological Society.
As five honorees shared their career stories with
the SRO crowd of 565 attendees, their enthusiastic, optimistic nature
was much in evidence.
In fact, it was clear from the get-go that wildcatters
share not only these traits but a number of others, including a
sense of humor.
"H.L. Hunt once told me, 'The guy that drills the
most has got a chance of coming up with the most,'" said renowned
wildcatter Marvin Davis during his turn on the dais.
"Well, early on, I drilled 80 straight dry holes,"
he said, "and I was walking around talking to myself. I figured
there was no oil left in the U.S.
"I remember I took my family on an outing, and when
we went to the gas station the pump didn't work," Davis said. "That's
when my wife told me, 'You can't even find oil at a gas station.'"
But the best was yet to be. The tenacious oilman
hung in there to ultimately amass a fortune drilling oil and gas
wells and also venturing into other businesses, including the film
Perseverance just goes with the territory.
"I've drilled thousands of wildcats and explored in
25 of the 33 producing states" said honoree Michel T. Halbouty.
"And I've drilled in some of which have yet to produce," he added
"At one time, I discovered 14 straight fields and
followed this streak with 36 straight dry holes," Halbouty, a past
president of AAPG, said. "It almost destroyed me.
"Wildcatting can be heartbreaking," he admitted,
"but my credo is: Don't quit, don't give up."
Although on the cusp of 94 years of age, the legendary
oilman continues to hunt for new oil and gas finds on a full-time
"I couldn't live without wildcatting," he said, "even
though I've gone broke twice."
Besides the need for such traits as optimism and
creativity, Halbouty emphasized that successful oil finders must
have faith in their own convictions. They must rely on their own
geological reasoning no matter how different or far out it might
"Many good potential oil finders have been ridiculed
by a boss who stifled a good idea with overbearing arrogance born
of ignorance," he noted. "Never be afraid to experiment with an
unusual idea or concept -- and once you're convinced, go for it."
Honoree Robbie Gries, past AAPG president,
shares this conviction.
"Some of the best fun in geology is taking risk where
you're challenging a dogma," Gries said.
Both Gries and Halbouty expressed optimism that the
United States harbors the potential for substantial new production.
Halbouty emphasized, however, that it won't be found if no one drills
His wildcatting cohort, Bill Barrett, is doing
his part to make it happen.
Barrett continues to enjoy immense success drilling
in his longtime stomping-ground, the Rocky Mountain region. And
he thinks there is a lot of oil and gas yet to be found in conventional
Sometimes known to flout the conventional approach
to finding oil and gas -- he once used a nuclear device for a frac
job (EXPLORER Century Issue, December 1999) -- it was much in character
when he said, "I think ultimately a large part of our job is to
make the unconventional conventional.
"That's what innovation is," Barrett continued, "looking
at or doing something in a way not done before."
Lessons and legends go hand-in-hand in the viewpoint
of this oil finder. Noting he has experienced decades of lessons
accompanying both successes and failures, Barrett opted to share
some of these with the audience:
- Timing is important; never underestimate
- If necessity is the mother of invention,
technology must be the father. It will open up huge reserves for
- Despite reliance on geology, geophysics
and such, it's still about creativity and motivation of talented
people. Keep an open mind for ideas and ways to do things.
- Be a VIP -- strive for Vision, Integrity
and Performance as values for yourself and your company. Your
reputation in the industry is more important than reserves on
the books -- and more delicate.
- Innovation is exacting, precise work. The
details are the difference. A lot of conventional thinkers overlook
the details that might lead to an unconventional discovery.
- Geology has been the one consistent thread
through (my) experiences and successes. Utilize the geology. It
will help find a lot of oil and gas and decrease the number of
- Hitting singles are for guys named Peewee.
If you don't take a swing at the big reserves, you're never going
to hit it big. It's better to have drilled and lost than never
to have drilled at all.
- Protect the environment, but challenge
onerous, unnecessary regulatory and environmental regulations.
Become involved in the political process, and fight for what is
fair and right.
- Listen to your gut. Science, technology
and numbers are king, but trust your instincts, which are formed
through past experiences.
Honoree Thomas Barrow also had some sound advice:
"Listen to the new geologists," he said, "they have great ideas."
He should know.
While earning his doctoral degree, Barrow's dissertation
project focused on the stratigraphic and structural history of the
East Texas Basin. The project, which was sponsored by Humble, convinced
the company to drill the discovery well for the huge Neches Field
in east Texas.
"A hundred million barrels from a graduate student