“The man who helped to educate the petroleum world”

Gordon Barrows' homeland

Andrey Konoplyanik – Gazprom export LLC and Russian State Gubkin Oil & Gas University to The Journal of World Enery Law & Business.


It was in the course of preparing my review of the ‘Regulation of the Upstream Petroleum Sector. A Comparative Study of Licensing and Concessions Systems (edited by Tina Hunter)’, which I began with the results of a comparison of different petroleum regimes worldwide, based on the data published by the Barrows Company and which was kindly provided to me by the head of this company, Mr Gordon Hensley Barrows himself, that I heard with great sadness that he had passed away (on 18 January 2016, at the age of 92, at his home in Ralston, Wyoming, USA – the town in which he was born on 30 July 1923).

Gordon Barrows lived a long and interesting life, full of experience and adventure. He grew up in Ralston, went to school in Powell (Wyoming) and graduated from the University of Wyoming before joining the US Army as a medic in World War II and participating in the D-Day invasion of Europe. After the war, he completed a Master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He went to work for Standard Oil in California and then went to live in Mallorca, Spain for two years.

He returned to the USA and went to seek his destiny in New York City in 1954. He became managing editor of the World Petroleum Report in 1955 and then he founded the Barrows Company in 1962. This company, based in Ralston but with an office in Manhattan, though not big in size, eventually established the world’s most comprehensive international reference library for oil, gas and mineral laws and contracts.

In New York, he met and married the love of his life, Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Martin, a former fashion model and textile designer, in 1968. They remained happily married for 37 years until her death in 2005. She was remembered in Powell as ‘an Eastern girl who loved the West’.

Gordon Barrows was one of the founders of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators (AIPN) and received a special lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the industry. He generously volunteered his time and expertise through the years to make the AIPN the premier professional organization for international petroleum negotiators. In the foreword to the AIPN history book ‘AIPN: The Art of The Deal. The Story of the AIPN’, he is mentioned as one among ‘three wonderful friends of the AIPN and legends in the international oil business’.1 The AIPN came to life with its first lunch meeting, at Houston’s Inn on the Park, on 25 February 1982. Frank Mytinger became its Founding President then. This is how he remembered the appearance of Gordon Barrows at the AIPN:

In October of 1982, the Association had its first luncheon speaker, Gordon Barrows of Barrows Company. He was a natural fit for the AIPN audience, both because he had a wide network of connections in the industry and because he published collections of sample oil laws, regulations, and contracts from around the world. The Barrows Company began 1949 when Gordon graduated from John Hopkins with a Masters in international relations. He was hired by Chevron (then Standard of California) to work as ‘foreign representative’, a sort of contact point for governments. After a few years of training with the parent company in San Francisco and its affiliates, Barrows resigned and began his own company, Barrows Company Inc. The company objective was to assemble a library of petroleum legislation for all countries. It was quite a big order for a young man with no money. The early 1950s were good years for Americans. The dollar was high. As Barrows tells it, he had very few dollars, so he moved to Mallorca, off Spain where living was cheap. Travel was convenient from Mallorca too. The Middle East and North Africa were near, Europe was accessible and parts of lower Africa as well. Oil laws were hard to get. There was no e-mail, no computers, only unreliable teletypes and mail. Return mail took several weeks. The Barrows library became extremely useful, and oil companies bought its publications. He divided the collection into regional services so companies could select their areas. In 1955, Barrows moved the company to New York, where all the big internationals had headquarters. Barrows Company has remained in New York since 1955. … Over the years, the Barrows Company became an integral component of petroleum deal-making for companies large and small. Barrows himself could regale any listener with fantastic tales of his experiences tracking developments in the international petroleum business, and he gave his time generously in helping establish an organization with a mission that was kindred to his own.

And it was Gordon Barrows in his capacity as Vice-President of the AIPN (a long-held position) who promoted my personal membership of the AIPN (my Membership Number is 1722, which I have held since 1999). I was acquainted with him twice: the first time, in the mid-1980s, I knew his name from the studies published by his company; the second time was a few years later when we became acquainted in person. I first knew of the studies of the Barrows Company in 1986, when I was working as a research fellow on international energy issues, primarily on oil and gas, in the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), in the USSR Academy of Sciences. This was the time of Gorbachev’s ‘Perestroyka’ in the USSR. The country was preparing to open itself to foreign investments, so critical assessment of international experience in international petroleum arrangements was overwhelmingly important for the decision-making bodies. And IMEMO was (and still is) one of the top academic think-tanks which had been providing institutional expertise for the state authorities on Western experience and best business practices (this is perhaps a reason why so many colleagues of mine from this Institute later found places in the
first post-Soviet Russian Government).

I was asked to prepare an analysis of petroleum arrangements between international oil companies (IOCs) and host states. I was lucky enough to obtain access to the Barrows Company database. From that, I prepared a comparative analysis on different forms and particularities of petroleum arrangements in the international oil industry between international oil companies and the host states, which became a pioneering analytical study of the kind in my country. This study would not have appeared in the format that it did, and would not have received such a positive response, but for the detailed, well-organized database from the Barrows Company, which was used as a background for the study. After that I became increasingly involved in this topic, and I published the extended version of this study in 1989. This study then came to the attention of the GOSPLAN (USSR Staten Planning Committee) authorities and they invited me to join GOSPLAN, which I did in 1990. This was a turning point in my career—and it happened due to Gordon Barrows and his Company’s publications.

Since then, the publications of the Barrows Company have always been one of the key sources of information in my practical duties. This included my time in the State Expert Commission under GOSLPLAN in the USSR in 1990–91 and in the Russian Ministry for Fuel and Energy in 1991–93 (when I dealt with Russian oil joint ventures and with production-sharing agreements (PSAs), where I participated as a member of the Government Commission on preparing a feasibility study for the Sakhalin 2 project). The Barrows Company’s publications were especially extremely helpful in 1994–97, when, as Adviser to the State Duma, I worked as the head of the drafters of Russian legislation on concessions (the second version, which has not passed into law) and on PSAs. PSAs in Russia did not receive widespread political support at the time, although a draft PSA Law was passed by the Duma and enacted into law in 1996. Now, on the 20th anniversary of the PSA Law, it is fitting to note the contribution of Gordon Barrows.

I met Gordon in person at one of the international conferences organized in Moscow in Spring 1992 by the International Energy Agency, where Gordon was invited as a prominent international expert in international petroleum arrangements. At that time, I had been working as a Deputy Minister of the Russian Ministry for Fuel and Energy with responsibility for foreign direct investments. I told Gordon that I had been educating myself using his publications and that I had learned a lot from his studies. He was very pleased to hear this. We established friendly relations very quickly despite almost 30 years of difference in age. He was very much interested in what I had been doing as Deputy Minister and after that, when I left the Ministry in 1993 and concentrated on the development of investment-friendly legislation for the Russian subsoil, Gordon was very supportive to this undertaking. He provided, free of charge to me and my team of drafters, much of the literature which his company had published, which was very helpful for us in preparing a case-based reasoning in favor of PSA for the Government and the State Duma.

Between 1997 and 2002, and since 2008 until the present, I have been acting as a part-time lecturing Professor (first in the State Academy of Management and now in Moscow State Gubkin Oil & Gas University). I have developed a programme for Masters students on the evolution of international oil and gas markets and instruments of investment protection/stimulation, and significant parts of this course related to the evolution of petroleum arrangements is based on data published by the Barrows Company, which was kindly provided to me by Gordon himself in the course of almost three decades of our acquaintance together. His data provides invaluable input to my course.

Each time I visited New York we met in his office and then usually had lunch together. I liked this small pizzeria around the corner from his office. It was very simple—as simple as Gordon was himself in his communication and personal relations. I do remember his habitual bow tie and his humor, so light and elegant, like good jazz.

With Gordon Barrows’ departure, an important page in the history of the international petroleum industry is being turned over. It was also a very important page in my personal history with this industry as well. God bless you, Gordon! Rest in peace!!!

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