Barrett hailed as ‘Piceance Pioneer’

Bill Barrett Founder of Bill Barrett Corp.

Longtime western Colorado residents look less fondly on the spring of 1982 than does Bill Barrett Sr.

Barrett, who first saw the Piceance Basin in 1958 as a fresh young geologist from Kansas, knew the basin contained vast quantities of natural gas, but the process of tapping it was one of decades.

When Exxon pulled out of the Colony Oil Shale Project in May 1982, Barrett seized a once-in-a-career opportunity to become a dominant player in the region.

Until May 2, “It was difficult to get a position because Exxon had all the oil shale tied up” and oil shale lays atop the productive natural gas layers of the Piceance. “Really, when Exxon pulled out was when the area opened up.”

Barrett, 84, was honored Friday night by the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association as a “Pioneer of the Piceance” for his work in unlocking the Piceance’s treasure.

As he acquired leases, Barrett was working in the DJ Basin, where drillers were perfecting a technique known as “massive fracking,” which was much like the hydraulic fracturing being employed today.

In those days, however, the gas-bearing formations were fractured around a vertical bore, meaning that the affected area was much smaller than the horizontal fracturing that can open vast reaches of a formation deep below the surface.

Much as is the case today, Barrett was plagued by low prices for natural gas, “except that it was even more pathetic then,” he said.

Every summer, he’d close down wellheads because of low prices, Barrett said.

Come winter, though, the strategy would pay off as pressure would have built up over the summer, allowing him to get more gas to market as prices rose.

“I was a long-term believer in natural gas, and I’m still a believer,” he said.

In recognizing Barrett, the association said he “improved efficiencies when others looked for quicker returns elsewhere. He relied on improving and technology when others stagnated and got frustrated. As a result he revolutionized the energy industry and economy of Western Colorado.”


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