Michel T. Halbouty

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Michel Thomas Halbouty (21 June 1909 in Beaumont, Texas – 6 November 2004 in Houston, Texas) was an American geologist, petroleum engineer, and wildcatter. Credited with discovering more than 50 oil and gas fields, he twice declared bankruptcy, but came back each time to regain wealth. He authored hundreds of technical articles on petroleum geology, and two book-length histories of famous oil fields. Halbouty is often described, including in his New York Times obituary, as “legendary.”[1]


Halbouty's father, a Lebanese immigrant, ran a grocery store. Michel Halbouty got his first job in the oil business as a boy, bringing ice water to the drillers at the Spindletop oil field south of Beaumont.

He enrolled at Texas A&M University at age 16. Although he was short of funds, the president of the university personally gave him a $50 loan to cover tuition.[2] He was graduated in 1930 with a double degree in Geology and Petroleum Engineering. The following year he gained a master's degree from Texas A&M, again in both Geology and Petroleum Engineering. He always wore his A&M ring on his left-hand ring finger, and was instrumental in persuading George H. W. Bush to locate his presidential library on the A&M campus.[3]

He discovered his first oil field in 1931, only six weeks out of college, when as a wellsite geologist for the Yount-Lee Oil Co. he drove from the wellsite and interrupted a formal dinner party at the owner's home to persuade the owner not to abandon an apparent dry hole, but to drill deeper. Halbouty staked his job on the result, and drilled into the prolific High Island Field in Texas.

Halbouty served in the US Army during World War II, as an infantry officer, instructor in military science and tactics, and as Chief of the Petroleum Production Section of the Army-Navy Petroleum Board. He attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel by the end of the war.[4]

Halbouty was an outspoken proponent of increased American domestic exploration for oil and gas, rather than reliance on foreign sources. He was highly critical of oil companies that cut back exploration efforts in the period of low oil prices during the 1980s and 90s,[5] and especially of the efforts of T. Boone Pickens to dismantle exploration departments at various US oil companies.[6] Halbouty was fond of citing Wallace Pratt's dictum that "Oil is found in the minds of men", to encourage more creativity in oil exploration.[7]

Halbouty died at age 95, while working on a West Texas oil project.

Honors and offices[edit]

Branches of a large oak tree shade a sidewalk
The Michel T. Halbouty Geosciences Building at Texas A&M University

Published works[edit]

Halbouty wrote 370 articles and six books.

Selected articles[edit]


  • Petrographic and Physical Characteristics of Sands from Seven Gulf Coast Producing Horizons, 1937, Houston, Tex.: Gulf Publ. Co.
  • Spindletop (with James A. Clark), 1952, New York: Random House,
  • Salt Domes, Gulf Region, United States and Mexico, 1969, Houston, Tex.: Gulf Publ. Co.
  • Ahead of His Time; Michel T. Halbouty Speaks to the People, (ed. by James A. Clark) 1971, Houston, Tex.: Gulf Publ. Co.
  • The Last Boom (with James A. Clark), 1972, New York: Random House, ISBN 0-394-48232-8.
  • Drilling in The Future (with Aidil Yunus B. Ismail), jan2014, Tronoh. Malaysia.


  1. ^ Douglas Martin, New York Times, Michel Halbouty, oilman of legend, dies at 95, 14 Nov. 2004, accessed 22 June 2009.
  2. ^ Sonia Moghe, Famed oil man, Aggie, Halbouty dies at 95[permanent dead link], The Battalion online, 9 Nov. 2004, accessed 22 June 2009.
  3. ^ Larry Nation, "Wildcatter Michel T. Halbouty dies", AAPG Explorer, accessed 22 June 2009.
  4. ^ Society of Exploration Geophysicists, Michel T. Halbouty Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine., accessed 22 June 2009.
  5. ^ Michel T. Halbouty, Mergers decrease exploration[permanent dead link], Landman (undated), Word file, downloaded 22 June 2009.
  6. ^ Pipeline & Gas Journal, Editor's notebook Archived 2011-07-22 at the Wayback Machine., Dec. 2004, PDF file, downloaded 22 June 2009.
  7. ^ Michel T. Halbouty, "Exploration into the new millennium", in Petroleum Provinces of the Twenty-First Century, Tulsa, Okla.: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, p.11, accessed 22 June 2009.
  8. ^ AIME, Honorary Membership, 1973 Archived 2011-07-17 at the Wayback Machine., accessed 23 June 2009.
  9. ^ AAPG, Michel T. Halbouty Memorial Grant Archived 2009-07-23 at the Wayback Machine., accessed 22 June 2009
  10. ^ "A legendary scientist", Geotimes, Nov. 2001.
  11. ^ "A legendary scientist", Geotimes, Nov. 2001.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jack Donohue, (1979) Wildcatter: the Story of Michel T. Halbouty and the Search for Oil, New York: McGraw-Hill, ISBN 978-0-07-017542-6
  • Jack Donohue, (1990) War Without End: Michel T. Halbouty's Fight for American Energy Security, Houston, Tex.: Gulf Pub. Co, ISBN 0-87201-921-7 (0-87201-921-7)