William Barrett is a voice of optimism in uncertain times, counseling us on the value of perseverance. When he notes that “opportunity and challenge are often different sides of the same coin,” he is, of course, speaking from decades of personal experience. The farm-raised Kansas native has risen to recognition as the preeminent explorationist of the Rocky Mountain region, while his fervor for hydrocarbon discovery has brought him out of retirement on multiple occasions (he is currently retired as CEO and Chairman of Bill Barrett Corp., a NYSE E&P Company).
Barrett’s first experience in petroleum geology came in Salt Lake City, where he was employed as a stratigrapher for El Paso Amoco (Pan American at the time of his employment) was his last stint with a major oil and gas firm before moving into independent enterprise. He became chief geologist at the considerably smaller Wolf Exploration/ Inexco, where he handled legal duties, contributed to the company’s public relations efforts, and raised funds. With Barrett on board, Wolf compensated for their small size with resilience and ambition, securing 350,000 acres worth of land over 8 prospects in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Among the wells whose drilling was initiated by Barrett, there was the well which found Hilight oil field (and its 200 million barrel oil reserve).
Only a year later, Barrett’s geology led to the discovery of the Madden gas field: all four trillion cubic feet of it. To date, this field is still being developed. The Madden field discovery occurred in spite of faulty information provided by a previous firm’s seismic survey of the area, as well as a number of dry holes drilled by others. If nothing else, such a discovery confirms his belief that a challenge can quickly be reconfigured into an opportunity.
Still more fields discovered by Barrett, such as those in Colorado’s Piceance Basin, remain in development today- this particular find was made under the banner of his own Barrett Resources (established in 1981 and made public in 1983.) In cases such as these, a healthy streak of skepticism on Barrett’s part has overruled the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the day and led to trillions more cubic feet of prime gas reserves. Barrett has experienced his share of setbacks, but has continually endured and re-assessed rather than seeing these setbacks as permanent and irreversible.
Barrett, having learned on the farm in his youth that little comes for free, cautions us against taking our energy resources for granted, and sees “delivering the truth about a healthy energy industry” as one of the great challenges that we face today. He also encourages us to work with organizations like the AAPG to educate others on the value of independent /small outfit gas production, the lynchpin of affordable energy in the United States.
The William J. Barrett Family Named Grant is awarded annually to a deserving student at Kansas State University through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation Grants-in-Aid program, and is endowed by the AAPG Foundation with generous contributions from William J. Barrett.