Abstract

Paul Walton died on July 27, 1998 in Salt Lake City of a neurological disease at the age of 84. Paul's career was a true larger-than-life geologist's success story--a wildcatter whose geological talent, keen powers of observation, natural curiosity, and indomitable spirit enabled him to become what most petroleum geologists only aspire to be, an "oil finder." Upon graduating from the University of Utah in 1935 with a B.S. degree in geological engineering, he worked initially for the U.S. Soils and Conservation Service before being hired by Standard Oil of California to take the first gravity meter survey party to Saudi Arabia. His early work in the Saudi desert contributed to the discovery of several of the giant Saudi Arabian oil fields. After contracting rheumatic fever in the desert and nearly dying in 1938, Standard returned him to Salt Lake City, still in poor health, and terminated his employment. He returned to the University of Utah and earned a master's degree in geology. He then entered MIT and earned a Ph.D. in geology, graduating in 1942. Paul worked for several years in the Rockies for Texaco and subsequently Pacific Western, a J. Paul Getty company. He contributed to several discoveries and Pacific Western's successful participation in five oil fields in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming. In 1948, Getty, who was not at that time involved in the international oil game, realized that the Middle East was the home to the super-giant oil fields of the world, and he wanted to become a player. Getty learned of Paul's successful exploration experience in Saudi Arabia and asked him to get Getty into the big leagues. Paul returned to the desert sands and selected a concession area in the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait that had outcrop indications similar to those he had explored in Saudi Arabia. Paul not only provided the geological expertise, he also negotiated the concession terms with the Arab sheiks over an arduous three-month period during much of which time he was fighting serious dysentery. The concession was successfully signed, and Paul again returned home from the desert in a sick condition. Pacific Western was so appreciative of Paul's efforts that they gave him a $1200 bonus, but would not pay his next three years of medical bills as he struggled to recover from the amoebic dysentery that he had contracted on their behalf. The structure that Paul identified in the desert sands became the Wafra oil field, a multibillion barrel find that moved Getty Oil Company on to the world oil stage and made J. Paul Getty one of the richest men in the world! After that lesson, Paul again returned to Salt Lake City to restart his life, this time as a self-employed independent geologist. He formed a partnership with Nick Morgan and in 1949 began acquiring leases in the Uinta Basin of Utah, an area in which he had done his doctoral dissertation at MIT. By virtue of Paul's geology, he and his partners soon had productive leases in several new Uinta basin discoveries and overriding royalties began accruing to the oil finder. Shortly thereafter, Paul became intrigued with the possibility that the Cretaceous rocks of the Wasatch Plateau of central Utah might hold potential for gas accumulations, a concept that other geologists had not recognized at that time. After working with Soil Conservation Service aerial photos (no base maps were available), Paul concluded that several large structures were possibly present. In the spring and summer of 1950, with plane table, altimeters, and wife Betty holding the stadia rod, he mapped five structures on the 10,000-foot-high plateau. With partners, the Morgans and Kearns, he filed oil and gas leases on 100,000 acres. Overcoming numerous roadblocks by utilities, railroads, pipelines, and coal operators, the initial test well was spudded in September 1951; and a month later a drill-stem test started flowing gas, slowly at first, but after 18 hours the measured rate was 7.5 million cubic feet per day. The Clear Creek gas field, with ultimate reserves approaching 200 billion cubic feet, was discovered, and Paul's successful career as an independent geologist was truly confirmed. In 1957, based on his field mapping, Paul and partners leased 180,000 acres in southeastern Wyoming. They interested El Paso Natural Gas in drilling on one of the surface features, but the operator stopped 1500 feet above the objective Nugget sand and could not be persuaded to drill deeper. The leases lapsed, and 19 years later Chevron drilled to the Nugget and the giant Ryckman Creek field of the "over-thrust" play was discovered. In fact, all or parts of Ryckman Creek, Whitney Canyon, Carter Creek, and Road Hollow fields with reserves of several trillion cubic feet were within the original unitized lease block. Paul's geology was, as usual, very good, but timing is everything! Paul was from a ranching family and had always dreamed of owning his own ranch. In 1958, with the royalties from his Wasatch Plateau and Uinta basin discoveries, Paul and his wife Betty bought 1740 acres along the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Several hundred acres were swampland, but with their vision and hard work on a personal reclamation project, beautiful hay meadows resulted that enabled the ranch to become viable. The Walton Ranch became one of the true show-piece ranches of the west. They loved the property and realized what a tragedy it would be if the land were ever subdivided and developed. At great financial sacrifice, Paul and Betty deeded a conservation easement to the Jackson Hole Land Trust, the largest gift ever made to that organization, which will forever preserve this magnificent property for ranching-only purposes. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude for their generosity. Paul Walton was a true explorationist with the geological talent to recognize oil and gas potential. He had enough courage in his convictions to invest his own resources and to turn his ideas into wealth, not only for himself but also for literally hundreds of landowners, local townspeople, and fellow workers. His accomplishments as a geologist, cattleman, and conservationist are best summarized by an expression he was fond of; "The most glorious adventure in life is making your own way in the world." Paul Walton will be missed by all whose lives he touched.

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