James H. Butler, 83, a former summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard, died on April 30 in Houston, Texas, after suffering a stroke on a flight home from Queensland, Australia, where he was exploring for natural gas. An eagle scout and amateur naturalist, he studied the flora, fauna and sea that Martha’s Vineyard supplies to a youth in special measure.
He was born May 8, 1928 in Montclair, N.J., the son of James H. Butler Jr. and Gertrude T. Fay, who maintained homes in Norwood and Oak Bluffs. His mother’s family first built an Island home in 1912 and have spent their summers here since then.
As a young man he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and served in the Philippines at the end of World War II. He attended the Colorado School of Mines, graduating as a petroleum engineer in 1952, and married Emma Lou Wilson of Salina, Kansas in the same year.
He spent his entire professional career searching worldwide for petroleum. He first worked for others, the Magnolia Petroleum Company in Jackson, Mississippi, and later for Bakke Oil in Midland, Texas. He was instrumental in the discovery of the Bakke Field in Andrews County, Tex. Thereafter, he returned to the Colorado School of Mines, where he earned a Ph.D. in geology in 1972. After a year of teaching geology in Mexico City, he became an independent explorer in Midland, Texas. In 1977, in a venture in conjunction with the Gulf Oil Company, he drilled a well reaching a record depth of 29,622 feet, the Number 2 Emma Lou Unit well in the Delaware Basin. In 1988, his own company, Tri-Star Petroleum, commenced exploration in Australia, completing in 1994 the first commercial Australian coal-seam well located in the Fairview Field in Queensland. The discovery led to years of development and plans for conversion into liquefied natural gas.
Mr. Butler was buried on May 3 in Houston after services at the Madrasah Islamiah Centre. He is survived by his wife of 60 years; two sons, James of Houston and John of Midland, Tex.; six grandchildren; and his sister, Fay Butler Greene of Boston and Edgartown.