Wildcatter: The Story of Michel T. Halbouty and the Search for Oil

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.”

Wildcatter is the exciting true story of Mike Halbouty, one of the most active and daring independent oilmen of the past four decades. The book was written with lots of help from its single-minded subject, the controversial Texas oilman who forecast the energy crisis of the 1970s in 1960.

The son of Lebanese immigrants who ran a small grocery in Beaumont, Halbouty worked his way through Texas A.&M., earning an M.A. in both geology and petroleum engineering. After graduating (1931), he joined a survey crew on the Gulf Coast.

He discovered his first oil field that same year, 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, which has since yielded over 135 million barrels of crude oil.

1983 Book Cover – 2nd Edition

Following this precocious triumph, Halbouty went on to open scores of productive fields and drill his share of dusters in Texas and elsewhere, making, losing, and recouping fortunes. Well before it became fashionable, he lobbied for conservation measures–at no small personal cost, he claims. He’s also published hundreds of papers in scholarly or trade journals and written the standard reference work on salt dome structures. In later years, Halbouty began capitalizing on his status as a living legend and became an influential elder statesman, bearding OPEC lions in their Vienna den, and advising the White House. ~

Legendary wildcatter and past AAPG President Michel Halbouty gives the speech the audience will always remember at the 2003 HGS GeoLegends program. Halbouty was 95 years old at the time.


The High Island dome has been an important geological formation throughout the history of the Gulf Coast.  Artifacts found on Bolivar Peninsula indicate hunter-gatherers roamed the region for thousands of years, collecting shellfish and hunting the abundant wildlife. These Native Americans may have also visited the mineral springs which used to exist on High Island.  These springs resulted from salt dome minerals mixing with groundwater.  The mineral springs were an attraction to visitors in the late 1800s.  Water from the springs was bottled and sold widely in Texas as an elixir. 

According to legend, the pirate Jean Lafitte and his crew had parties in the big grove of oak trees that covered the island when they cruised the coast in the early 1800s.  He is reputed to have buried treasure here, but so far there’s no evidence to support this folklore.

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