In a packed hall in Salt Lake City, Bill Barrett and Peter Dea -- two generations of explorers, discussed their storied careers, exploration successes in the Rockies and the importance of mentors in their professional lives.
The two explorers were the co-keynote speakers for the Michel T. Halbouty Lecture, offered at each AAPG annual meeting as a "special" afternoon paper.
The presentation was titled, "Rocky Mountain Monumental Gas Discoveries -- Rocks and Roles -- Five Decades of Talent, Mentors, Old and New Breed of Leadership and Entrepreneurship.
Barrett first described his early years and the important training he received as a geologist with El Paso and then Amoco Production Co. in the Rocky Mountain region.
"It is fitting that Salt Lake City is the site of this talk since I started my career in oil and gas right here back in 1958," Barrett said. "This is where I was first exposed to the rocks in the Rockies."
During his tenure with the two firms Barrett was part of the discovery of such giant fields as Desert Springs, Patrick Draw and the San Juan Basin Mesa Verde-Dakota basin centered gas development.
"El Paso drilled eight wells on the Pinedale Anticline while I was with the firm," he said. "There were no pipelines at that time, there was no massive fracturing technology and no gas sold -- gas was 12 to 15 cents an mcf.
"But one learns that timing is everything in this business," he added. "Forty-one years later Pinedale is now a developing multi-tcf field, thanks to technology."
When Amoco planned to transfer Barrett to its New Orleans office, he opted to leave the company to stay in his beloved Rocky Mountains.
"I got valuable major oil company experience with Amoco, the most successful major in the Rockies," he said. "But when I left the company I embarked on a new phase in my career with independent companies."
Over the next several years Barrett helped build several independents, including Wolf Exploration and Rainbow Resources. He was involved with two giant discoveries -- the Powder River Basin Highlight Field, with about 200 million barrels of oil equivalent, and the three to four tcf Madden Field in the Wind River Basin.
When Barrett joined Rainbow Resources he moved from a working geologist position to senior management with a small start-up firm and was responsible for growing the business. Under his tenure the company discovered the 40 million barrel Red Wing Creek Field in North Dakota, which produces from a meteorite crater.
Several years later Rainbow Resources was sold to the Williams Cos., "a little déjà vu when we sold Barrett Resources to Williams in 2001," he said.
"After watching the growth of two successful public companies, I began to understand how to create my own firm, and in 1981 I started Barrett Energy Co.," he said.
The company went public two years later, the name changing to Barrett Resources Corp. Twenty years after the formation of the company Barrett was sold to Williams for $2.8 billion, or $73.30 a share.
Dea joined Barrett Resources in 1993 as chief geologist, but not before he too gained valuable major company experience.
Dea began his career with Exxon USA in 1982 as a production geologist in Corpus Christi, but in 1985 was transferred to Denver as an exploration geologist to focus on sequence stratigraphy and foreland structures of the Rockies.
"Exxon was great exposure for the rest of my career," Dea said. "Most importantly for us young bucks, we were mentored by master geologists and cutting edge sequence stratigraphers."
He joined Barrett at a time when Bill Barrett was looking to expand into Wyoming.
"Barrett had a focused strategy on Rocky Mountain natural gas," Dea said. "Bill charged me with a grass roots exploration effort and reviewing outside generated prospects in the Wind River and Green River Basins."
One of the most important discoveries in Barrett Resources' history grew out of this effort -- the Cave Gulch Field.
"When I first sought Bill's approval to drill the exploration well in February 1994, I had it mapped as a 50 billion cubic feet prospect," Dea said.
At 7:00 a.m. August 10, 1994, Dea and Barrett stared over Dea's drafting table, scrolling down the log of the exploratory test.
"When engineer Frank Franham had called me from the wellsite that dawn, he said, 'Peter, we hit the mother lode.' The impact of our discovery didn't hit me until Bill said something colorful in my office followed by, 'Peter, this log looks just like the pay at Madden Field.'"
Madden was the largest gas field in Wyoming, discovered by Barrett in the 1960s.
"We had just discovered 500 bcf," Dea said, "ten times more than the prognosis."
Cave Gulch was a company maker for Barrett Resources and allowed the company to merge the much larger Plains Petroleum into Barrett in 1995. Over the years Dea climbed from chief geologist to CEO and was instrumental in the next major project in the company's history.
"In 1997 we recognized that a source of new gas was trickling into pipelines in the Powder River Basin," he said. It was methane from the shallow Wyodak coal.
Dea and the Barrett team ignored conventional wisdom and plunged into the yet-unproved new play.
"Although the play had substantial risk, I realized one important aspect early on -- the play had no limits," Dea said. "If it worked, we could control a major part of the play and add another company, building monumental gas field to our portfolio."
In June 1997 Dea's current company, Western Gas Resources, brought Barrett into the play as a 50/50 partner. The two firms amassed over one million acres in the basin, and this unparalleled leasehold now exposes each company to two tcf of low-risk reserves.
Production has since grown exponentially to 950 million cubic feet of gas a day from 11,000 wells. The field contains an estimated 25 tcf of recoverable gas.
"By early 2001, Barrett had an unparalleled portfolio of legacy assets with 2.1 tcf of proven reserves and several tcf of unbooked potential reserves to drive future internal growth," Dea said. "We had not only built a premier portfolio of assets but also a premier team of petro professionals and leaders.
"Unfortunately," he added, "this was no secret to the industry."
After fighting off a hostile takeover bid by Shell Exploration & Production Co. that Barrett officials considered too low, the firm was sold to Williams for $750 million more than Shell's offer.
"Since I had joined Barrett in 1993, the Barrett team of many individuals had grown proven reserves from 64 bcfe to 2.1 tcfe, and grown production from 25 to 341 million cubic feet a day," he said. "It had been a great run of successes and failures."
One of the keys was a team of leaders, geologists, engineers and landmen who contributed equally and enjoyed the hunt for discoveries as much as the trophy of a log of pay zones colored red for gas.
"Our common link was a passion for exploration and the mentoring of Bill Barrett," Dea said. "Bill provided inspiration, motivation and kept the fire burning in our bellies."