William J. (Bill) Barrett

Barrett Resources LLC

Editor's note: This profile is part of Hart Energy's 50th anniversary Hall of Fame series honoring industry pioneers of the past 50 years and the Agents of Change (ACEs) who are leading the energy sector into the future.

Bill Barrett

If there was oil and gas out there, Bill Barrett would find it.

Across 50-plus years in the business, he is credited with such finds as the Wind River Basin’s Madden Field, with up to 4 trillion cubic feet of gas; and Highlight Field in the Powder River Basin, with several hundred million barrels of oil. 

“Exposure is the name of the game,” Barret told Hart Energy in 2009. “I always believed in growth through the drillbit, and if you don’t take a swing at the big reserves, you won’t find ’em.”

He found enough of them to warrant starting up three successful companies, two of which were sold to Williams Cos. In 1969, he and Chuck Shear started BNC Exploration (from the names Bill and Chuck), where he was vice president of exploration. The company merged with Rainbow Resources in 1971, adopting the name of the latter firm. With Barrett’s oil-finding prowess, it brought a sale price of $40 million from Williams in 1978.

When the resulting non-compete agreement expired in 1981, he started what would become Barrett Energy Co. as a part of Aeon Energy. He took his own company public in 1983, under the name Barrett Resources.

Barrett’s vision and risk-management skills grew the company into one of Colorado’s largest producers. When oil prices crashed in 1983, majors abandoned the state in droves, creating buying opportunities for those who stayed. To make purchases without overborrowing, Barrett sold partial interest in most wells he purchased. At first keeping just 12.5%, his company’s levels rose to 25%, then 100%, as their capital resources grew.

In 2001, he sold Barrett Resources to Williams. The next year, sons Fred and Terry Barrett talked their father into reentering the business, where they would rely on his solid reputation to build trust. The result was the Bill Barrett Corp., which went public in 2004.

Barrett was born in Kansas where he grew up as one 10 children on his parents’ poultry farm. He earned a master’s degree in geology from Kansas State University in 1957. 

Bill Barrett
(Source: Hart Energy archives)

He honed his craft in the Rocky Mountains, where he worked for El Paso Natural Gas, Pan American Petroleum Corp. and Wolf Exploration (the last of which was where he earned the “oil finder” tag), before co-founding of BNC Exploration. 

Barrett collected a slew of awards during his long career, among them the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States’ Wildcatter of the Year in 1998, a 2003 recognition by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and Oil and Gas Investor’s 2005 Discovery of the Year Award for the West Tavaputs gas discovery in the southern Uinta Basin.

—Paul Wiseman, Contributing Editor

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