geologist Michel T. Halbouty, the son of Lebanese immigrants who
became a legend in his own time, died November 6 with his wife Billye
at his side at a Houston hospital after a long battle with pancreatic
cancer. He was 95.
beginnings as the son of a grocer in Beaumont, Texas, Halbouty's
career spanned seven decades, and he was known worldwide as much
for his strong, outspoken advocacy for industry issues as for his
success as an oilfinder. His travels made him an internationally
known figure who was on a first-name basis with presidents and world
leaders, even playing golf regularly with former U.S. President
George H.W. Bush, who attended Halbouty's funeral.
in geology began when he was refused an answer by a teacher to the
question, "How old is the earth?" She told him to find out for himself.
His trips to the library sparked his fascination -- and he knew
what he wanted to do. He began saving for college -- and worked
his way through.
of the legend began in 1931 in the teeth of the Depression, when
Halbouty landed a job as a chain-puller on a survey crew for Yount-Lee
Oil Co. after graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in
geology and engineering from Texas A&M. Six weeks later, he
was credited with the discovery of the prolific High Island Field
between Beaumont and Houston. He had challenged his boss to drill
the well, staking his job on the discovery.
young Michel Halbouty, wearing sunglasses and standing third from
the left, stands with Glenn H. McCarthy to his left, as both observe
the opening of the discovery well in the West Beaumont Field, Texas,
in 1936. ENLARGE
later Halbouty joined wildcatter Glen McCarthy, who was known for
his flamboyant lifestyle and business activities. In the Halbouty
biography Wildcatter, the relationship was described as "King Kong
and Godzilla agreeing to share the same apartment."
months later Halbouty launched his own consultancy until being called
into the Army following Pearl Harbor. During World War II, he served
on the Army-Navy Petroleum Board under the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
mustering out in 1945 as a lieutenant colonel to resume his consulting
practice and eventually to become an operator.
discovery as Michel T. Halbouty Energy Co. was the Ashland Oil Field
in Louisiana. His astute use of the science and the ability to make
deals lead to fantastic successes. By 1950, Halbouty and partners
had drilled 29 wells with only two dry holes.
discoveries included big producers in Texas such as:
- The South Boling Field in Wharton County.
- The Northeast and Northwest extensions of the South Liberty Field
in Liberty County.
- The West Saratoga Field in Hardin County.
- The Pheasant Field in Matagorda County.
- In Montgomery County, a Halbouty discovery revitalized Fostoria
Halbouty drilled 14 exploration wells, and 12 found production.
every wildcatter knows, dry holes are part of the business, too.
He also had been broke -- at least twice. But his enthusiasm never
waned, and his adventuresome nature led him to areas far beyond
for example, he was the first independent to explore in Alaska,
finding a gas field.
while, Halbouty's AAPG and other professional organizations drew
his attention as well.
the author of over 400 articles on petroleum geology and engineering
and lectured widely on scientific and industry topics. He was the
subject of three biographies and was the author, along with James
Clark, of Spindletop, widely acknowledged as the definitive work
on the prolific discovery.
of his willingness to thrust himself into the vortex of the public
eye and his strong-willed views, Halbouty became one of the world's
most widely known geologists. His speeches delivered in world-spanning
lecture tours and articles chided major oil companies, independents,
government policies, the public, the media and anything else he
saw as obstructionist or harmful to his main goal -- exploration
for oil and gas.
always an evangelist for the science of petroleum geology, and his
oratory became celebrated as theater as well as substance. With
a tenor speaking voice and a distinctive accent, his revivalist
style of fortissimo and crescendo oratory drew standing-room-only
crowds at AAPG presentations. A major theme was energy independence.
His stands sometimes sparked controversy, but the honors and awards
piled up as his legend grew.
his election as president of AAPG in 1966 as one of the honors of
which he was most proud, along with being named the Sidney Powers
Medalist in 1977. He also received AAPG Honorary Membership in 1969
and the Human Needs Award, which now carries his name, in 1975.
He widely professed that AAPG was one of the major focuses of his
life, along with Texas A&M. He was the originator of the AAPG
Foundation, and a student Grants-In-Aid fund carries his name.
a Distinguished Lecturer and chaired or served on many AAPG committees.
He also authored, co-authored or contributed to numerous AAPG publications
including the three Giant Oil and Gas Fields of the Decade volumes
for the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
one of AAPG's strongest advocates and leaders and did much to shape
the organization, including leading
AAPG International Meeting in Brighton, England, in 1968.
to receiving the three highest awards bestowed by AAPG, he also
received the highest honors conveyed by the American Institute of
Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers. He was the only earth
scientist to have achieved the distinction of being so honored by
these two scientific and professional societies.
especially meaningful to Halbouty included a Doctorate of Geoscience
from the USSR Academy of Science, and being named Scientific Adviser
to the Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development
of the People's Republic of China and an Honor Professor in Geology
at the University of Nanjing.
supporter of Texas A&M, he endowed the Michel T. Halbouty Chair
in Geology, one of the largest individually endowed chairs at the
university. He also established the Michel T. Halbouty Visiting
Chair for the College of Geosciences, the university's only visiting
chair, and the geology building on the campus carries his name.
to his oil activities, Halbouty also had extensive banking interest
in Texas as well as real estate holdings in Houston.
on a number of civic boards and established treatment care of childhood
diseases at Texas Children's Hospital. He also served as chairman
of the President's Energy Policy Advisory Task Force and leader
of the "Transition Team on Energy" for the Reagan administration.
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush said Halbouty was instrumental
in locating his presidential library at Texas A&M.
my profession and the science it represents as one of the most vital
to the welfare of the world's people," Halbouty said in receiving
the Horatio Alger award in 1978. "To me, geology is more than a
science. It is a vital element -- the basic entity which formed
my outlook and philosophy of life.
has no rival in the spectrum of science," he said. "The story of
this earth, the evolution and destruction of continents, the recording
of all life since the beginning of time has attracted countless
men and women to its realm and continuously records the captivating
events of the planet upon which we all live ...
leave this earth, I trust my contributions to the science will leave
it better than the day I became its student."
As a post
script, Mary Stewart, his longtime administrative assistant, said
that at the time of his death, Halbouty was still involved in deals
-- including a development project in West Texas.