Michel T. "Mike" Halbouty, the last of the old-time Texas "wildcatters," died Nov. 6 of cancer at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston. He was 95.
Although he was almost as legendary as the late Glenn McCarthy, the Texas wildcatter who was Edna Ferber's model for Jett Rink in "Giant," Mr. Halbouty was more than a larger-than-life, risk-addicted oilman. He was an internationally recognized geologist, a benefactor of his beloved alma mater, Texas A&M University, and the author of four books and more than 300 articles on geology and petroleum engineering.
An outspoken proponent of energy self-sufficiency, he predicted the 1973 oil embargo years before it happened. He predicted a few years ago that another energy crisis is likely.
Born in Beaumont eight years after an oil well called Spindletop blew in just outside his East Texas birthplace, Mr. Halbouty came of age with the Texas oil industry. The black gold from Spindletop, unleashed from the earth in pulsing, prolific spew, literally created the industry. With thousands of barrels of oil wasted daily before the well could be capped, Spindletop also symbolized the flamboyant, unfettered life in which Mr. Halbouty and his fellow wildcatters thrived.
His parents were Lebanese immigrants. The second of six children, he helped his family make ends meet by taking numerous odd jobs, including carrying water to the rigs in the Spindletop field during its second boom in 1925.
He put himself through Texas A&M, earning degrees in geology and petroleum engineering in 1930 and 1931, then took a job with a Beaumont survey crew. He was 22 when he made his first discovery, at a tiny coastal community between Houston and Beaumont called High Island.
He went on to work for McCarthy as general manager and vice president of McCarthy Interests from 1935 to 1937, but he was too much the restless wildcatter to work for someone else. He went into business for himself.
"I could have retired completely when I was 39," he told Texas Monthly in 2001. "Hell, I had no more intention of retiring than the man in the moon."
During World War II, he served as an infantry officer in the Army and in 1945 became chief of the petroleum production section of the Army-Navy Petroleum Board.
After the war, he resumed wildcatting, and in true wildcatter fashion won some and lost some, spectacularly. He made fortunes, lost them and made them again at least a couple of times.
"The oil business isn't for the pessimist, or even for the realist," he told a reporter in 1986. "You've got to be an optimist. You've got to believe no matter how many dry holes you drill, the next one is going to hit."
In John Bainbridge's 1961 book about Texas, "The Super-Americans," Mr. Halbouty is quoted as saying, that "a whole book could be written about oilmen who once were rich and are now hanging around hotel lobbies trying to make the little deal that will pay the rent and buy the groceries. This business is full of heartbreak."
As an oilman, Mr. Halbouty experienced heartbreak, but he was never reduced to hanging around hotel lobbies. Still working into his nineties, he hung out at Houston's toniest restaurants and was a regular at high-society functions. In June, some of the city's most prominent citizens helped him celebrate his 95th birthday at Tony's, a restaurant that, in the words of Texas Monthly writer Mimi Swartz, "still hums to the tune of excess."
A major Texas A&M benefactor, he is credited with persuading former president George H.W. Bush to locate his presidential library on the university campus at College Station.
Survivors include his wife and two children.