PBPA Awards its prestigious Top Hand award to the Beal Brothers, the braintrust at BTA and some of the most respected oilmen in the Basin.
by Jesse Mullins
On Jan. 18, in the sumptuous confines of the Midland Petroleum Club, four exceptional brothers will be feted as the latest Top Hand honorees, as they receive the highest honors conferred by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association.
The four are co-owners and mainstays of BTA Oil Producers, one of the leading independents in Midland and a renowned exploration and production firm with some remarkable accomplishments to its credit.
They are, in fact, third-generation oil finders. They are grandsons of legendary California oilman, Carl H. Beal, and sons of BTA founder and Petroleum Museum Hall of Fame inductee, Carlton Beal. They have each made important contributions to the growth and success of BTA. During their 51-year involvement with the company, BTA has grown from 25 employees to more than 70, from 6,000 BOPD to a peak rate of 20,000 BOPD, from 7,000 MCFD to a peak rate of 100,000 MCFD, and from operations in several Texas counties to operations in most major basins in the United States. Few oil and gas exploration companies, especially those based in Midland, can claim successful and continuous operations from 1967 to the present.
Each Beal brother began his journey as an oil finder by working as a teenaged roustabout. Each graduated from college and worked for another oil company before joining BTA. Together, as partners, they have financed, participated in, and caused to be drilled over 1,700 wells, including 280 wildcat wells and 1,420 extension and development wells. They have enjoyed the unusually high overall success rate of 70 percent. In addition to the Permian Basin, where they have been most active, they have drilled in Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, South Texas, and both onshore and offshore Louisiana. They have drilled in the Piceance Basin in Colorado, the Sacramento Basin in California, the Paradox Basin in Utah, the Williston Basin in North Dakota and Montana, the Arkoma and Anadarko Basins in Oklahoma, and the Green River and Powder River Basins in Wyoming. They have drilled in the Basin and Range area of Nevada, in the sea off the North Slope of Alaska, and above the Arctic Circle in Canada.
Under their direction BTA either discovered or helped to delineate the Bough C play of New Mexico, Deep Delaware Basin Gas Play, Glasscock County Wolfcamp Detrital play, Tuscaloosa Trend in Louisiana, Antelope Ridge Atoka/Morrow play, Horizontal Mission Canyon play of North Dakota, Nisku play of North Dakota, and the Lewis Sand Play in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.
Like all great oil men, they remember their successful wells in vivid detail yet are unable to remember the names of dry holes. After 50 years in “the business,” they continue to participate in each new venture with passion and enthusiasm.
They have contributed time and resources to the Midland community, the benefits of which have been farreaching. They have served First Presbyterian Church, First Baptist Church, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Midland College, Midland Memorial Hospital, Trinity School, Young Life, Junior Achievement, United Way of Midland, Midland Christian School, Petroleum Club of Midland, Museum of Southwest, Petroleum Museum, Permian Basin Area Foundation, and the Beal Foundation.
Carlton Beal, Jr., “Carty”
Eldest son Carty knew from an early age that the oil business was for him.
Soon after joining BTA in 1967 Carty moved to Tatum, New Mexico, with his wife, Lynda, and their newborn son to manage the drilling and completion of the 97 wells that BTA drilled in the Bough C play. By 1971, he had returned to Midland and become manager of BTA’s drilling department. For the next 30 years, Carty managed the drilling of all BTA wells—from the swamps of Louisiana to the basins of the Rocky Mountains, from the 100-degree temperatures of Texas to the below-freezing temperatures of North Dakota, from wells drilled in less than a week to 20,000’ test wells drilled over many months.
Everyone who has worked with Carty has been immediately attracted to his warm, affable personality and his humble spirit. His peers recognize his gift for understanding all things mechanical and have vicariously enjoyed his love of cars, especially racecars. Workers in the oilfields of the Permian Basin will never forget his daily visits by helicopter from BTA’s roof-top landing pad—with Carty himself the pilot.
Barry Ashley Beal
In 1968, the year after Barry joined BTA’s exploration department as a petroleum engineer, he was responsible for the reservoir pressure study that discovered the connectivity of two remote tests in the Pennsylvanian Bough C formation, a discovery that led BTA to drill 97 wells, only six of which were dry holes. During that period, BTA’s daily production increased to 20,000 BOPD.
Barry became BTA’s exploration manager in 1971 and the firm’s general manager in 1977. Since then he has supplied the firm its leadership and vision. He has guided BTA through booms and busts in the oil and gas industry and provided a consistent and stable workplace for all BTA employees.
Anybody who has worked with Barry would readily award him the cherished title of “oil finder.” Since joining BTA in 1967, he has been involved in the evaluation of every prospect and in the decision to drill every well. Not a drop of oil has been discovered at BTA without his input. He has demonstrated unsurpassed skills of observation and analysis while evaluating well logs, drilling records, decline curves, pressure studies, dip meter reports, and seismic and geologic data.
Spencer Evans Beal
Three years after joining BTA’s economics and finance department in 1974, Spencer became head of the department and assumed responsibility for the firm’s accounting, investor relations, insurance, and information technology functions.
Spencer’s contributions to BTA have been vital to the firm’s financial health. He has managed and refined BTA’s accounting procedures. He has responded to changes in federal tax law and financial regulation. He developed the firm’s novel and successful private placement program. He championed and chaperoned BTA’s technological evolution from paper ledger to mainframe computer to PC network.
Spencer has developed and guided an investor group of over 350 individuals, some of whom are second and even third-generation investors. Over the past 35 years, he has traveled throughout the country to discuss with them the performance of their investment, BTA’s recent drilling activity, and the firm’s future prospects. He receives calls every day from investors requesting drilling updates. His contagious enthusiasm for the oil business continues undiminished.
Kelly Scott Beal
When Kelly joined BTA’s exploration department in 1977, he helped bridge the gap that existed between the disciplines of geophysics and geology. Although trained as a geophysicist, he willingly applied the science of geology to finding oil and became one of the first practitioners of the combined discipline of geoscience.
In his first years with BTA, Kelly was responsible for drilling several 20,000’ wells in the Deep Delaware Basin and for drilling many other wells throughout the Midcontinent. Beginning in 1983, he managed the group of BTA scientists reviewing prospects submitted by the industry. In this capacity he made his most significant impact on BTA. His gift for developing industry relationships and his insightful scientific evaluation of these submittals made BTA a favorite stop for anybody looking for a partner. As a result, BTA has had the opportunity to participate in numerous successful projects, some of them unprecedented for BTA in size, in every major oil producing basin in the United States.
Each brother, asked to mention someone who had influenced him over the course of the years, cited a figure who made a mark on his life.
Barry: “For me, it would be one of the professors I had in college, at Texas A&I, who was incredible. Dan Mooney. He has passed away. He taught me reservoir engineering, and was so good. And besides him, my mentor, basically, was Dad.”
Spencer: And you know, there was his father. Our grandfather. He is someone who comes to mind for me. He was one of the first geologists to graduate from Stanford. And of course, again, there was Dad, too, who went to Stanford and also to M.I.T. So they were obviously very into [the profession].
Kelly: “That is exactly right [about their father]. I remember Dad taking me—and you guys, too—taking me and teaching me the oil businesses. And Dad, gosh, he taught me reservoir engineering, taught me to do decline curves, taught me how to calculate ultimate recoveries. It was like, ‘Kelly, you’ve got to have a notebook. Got to take notes. You see, he was a teacher. Our dad, he taught at the University of Southern California.”
Barry (again): “His [their dad’s] student Moose studied at Southern Cal. Allen “Moose” Trobaugh became Dad’s first partner. Moose had been in the service and had come out from the service and took engineering there. And Dad said, ‘Would you come and work for me?’ And he did, and when they came to Texas he made Moose a partner. That was in about 1957 or ’58. That’s where the name “Beal, Trobaugh, and Associates” came from. BTA. Moose was a mentor of mine. I could go to him anytime and talk about whatever. I spent a lot of time with him in this place.”
Carty: [Carty, for his own part, spoke up for harmony.] I’ve been in this, been here at BTA, since 1967. So, how many years is that? Fifty? So, for 50 years, I have yet to have an argument with my three brothers. And I’ve known Barry for 77 years, and we fought one time, and all the rest of the time we worked together. All of our lives.
PB Oil and Gas asked each of the brothers if they had a piece of advice or a philosophy of life or work that they could share, after full careers working in the Basin. Here’s what they said:
Spencer Beal: A piece of advice that my dad gave me years ago. When people ask you what the price of oil is going to do, don’t project it. Because they only remember when you’re wrong. [Laughter] And we never have projected it in our economics or anything. We just use a “ground” price.
Barry Beal: We’re blessed in our job in that we love our job. And the advice that I would give somebody is, you want to do your best, your job has to be something you enjoy going to everyday. And we look forward to being in the office and being e look forward to being out in the field, and seeing what’s going on. Basically, we’ve been blessed on that account. Because, obviously, if we were doing some 8-to-5 and we’re hating to go to work, we wouldn’t have probably the success that we’ve had. But we’ve all enjoyed what we’re doing. When we went to work with these 10 employees, we worked half days on Saturday. You’d expect us to be in the office Saturday morning. Now, they’re working half days Friday. [laughter]. But a lot of it is due to the computers. If we were to go back to the same situation we were in back then, we’d need a thousand employees. But with the computers, one person can get so much done in a day, it’s incredible.
Kelly Beal: BJ, Barry’s son, and Bob Davenport, his son-in-law, they’re in there with Barry. They’re sitting there analyzing these plays, and they just put them up on the screen, and you can make decisions looking at the data, like that. Really, really incredible. Okay, now, as for any advice. One of the most important things is to be excited about your job. There’s no question about that. But integrity is the utmost importance. To always have the highest integrity and a good solid Christian foundation. We’re all Christians here. The morals, the Christian morals, are very important, I think, too, so are relationships with the industry.
A Convo with the Brothers Beal
PB Oil and Gas Magazine sat down recently with all four brothers in a conference room in their BTA headquarters in Midland for a chat about their careers and their fond memories. We share portions of that discussion below.
PB Oil and Gas: Could each of you say something about what it means to receive this award? How about we start with you, Carty?
Carty Beal: I just feel honored. Our dad received this award. This is the first time four people have been honored, and we’ve just… we’ve been partners… forever. Especially Barry and I. [He smiles.] I’ve known him for 77 years of my life. We went to college together, and then we became partners together.
Barry Beal: I think it’s a real honor and this is also the first time they’ve honored another generation [Second-generation Top Hands]. It’s just really exciting. It’s multi-generational. Actually, our fifth generation of our family is now in the oil and gas business.
Kelly Beal: We’re the third generation.
Barry Beal: Now the fourth generation is two of my sons and my son-in-law. And they’re basically running our company. Then the fifth generation… I have a granddaughter here in the business with us. And then I have two grandsons that are in the oil and gas business, though not part of our company.
Spencer Beal: At the moment.
Spencer Beal (continuing): I’m very honored to be part of this, and I’m especially proud of my brothers. They’ve made us as successful as we are over the years. And they’re the ones I truly want to thank.
Kelly Beal: And of course I am honored too, humbled to be included with my brothers. This company has been fantastic to work with, the family. Now with our nephews, working with them is… well, we’re truly blessed.
Spencer Beal: As an interesting aside, Carty is a drilling engineer. Barry is a petroleum reservoir engineer. I’m finance, tax oriented, and Kelly is a geophysicist.
Barry Beal: Plus, we just have very, very loyal employees. You know, we can’t thank them enough. Basically we’ve had a personal relationship with many of them. Going back to our earliest years here. Dad built his office here during the Spraberry boom. Back in 1950. And so Dad moved our family to Midland. Kelly was born in 1954, after we were here.
PBOilAndGas: That brings up another interesting subject, which is the Permian Basin itself. Did your family have any idea, when you moved here, what you were in for over the long haul?
Spencer Beal: I remember, driving out here. I was like seven years old, and I asked my father, why are we moving to West Texas?
Spencer Beal: And he said it’s like a layered cake, meaning multiple zones that are possible.
Barry Beal: Thirteen different zones.
Spencer Beal: That was in 1953.
Kelly Beal: What he was saying is, we were drilling for something, with all of the prospects in the Devonian, and he hit something else. You don’t hit the Devonian, you hit something shallow that will pay for the well. That’s serendipity. It’s always a factor out here.
PBOG: Can you give us an idea of how much things have changed, over the course of your careers?
Barry Beal: When we showed up here, I think there were 10 employees. We had a geologist, we had a drilling engineer, we had a petroleum engineer, and then of course when Carty and I came we were both petroleum engineers. There was Dad. Then we had an accountant. That was it. Everything we did was with slide rules. [Laughter]
Barry Beal: No computer. We did all our economics. When we came to the deals, Dad basically dad looked at payout and return on investment.
It would be, we’ll pay out in three years, and basically we’ll get back around three to one, or two to one. It makes a difference what your rate of return is. And so, all that had to be done with a slide rule. And then when Spencer came, he kind of introduced the Burroughs.
Spencer Beal: We had a Burroughs 6600 computer in that just added and subtracted. It had to be cooled, and we installed cooling under the floors. We had a hundred employees at one point in there. Now we’re down to about 80. But I must say I think that a great deal of respect needs to go to Barry, who’s been our manager and leader. And I must say that after the last 45 years, we really haven’t had any grouchy moments. Which is to me a real compliment to Barry, being our guide.
Carty Beal: He’s the brains. Of course, it all started with dad. He really had the business going when Barry and I showed up. But as soon as we showed up, he retired, essentially.
Barry Beal: Carty basically came as a drilling engineer. And I was a reservoir engineer, but I raised money until Spencer got here.
Barry Beal: Anyhow, Carty had a lot of responsibility. And after we were here a year, we had seven rigs running up in New Mexico. So he lived in Tatum, New Mexico and drilled these oil wells.
Carty Beal: But Barry, he put me up on a tank but he says, Carty, this field goes ten miles this way and then turns [Carty indicates a turn of about 90 degrees] and goes ten miles down this way. He envisioned that in his brain. Because he saw the bottom hole pressures of these wells, and sure enough, my brother was right.
Kelly Beal: We became the largest oil producer in Mexico at the time.
Barry Beal: We got to 20,000 barrels a day. That was probably in mid-1969. We were blessed in that the drilling we did in the ’70s and ’80s, we picked up a lot of acres. It was held by production. All these years. And it’s in the Delaware Basin, it’s in the Midland Basin, it’s in all these horizontal plays, so we have many locations to drill right now. More locations than we’ve ever drilled.