Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Shawnee's Barrett Brings Oil, Indian Background to Refinery

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Shawnee's Barrett Brings Oil, Indian Background to Refinery

Article excerpt

SHAWNEE (AP) - He roughnecked in Oklahoma's oil patches at 15, went to Princeton after high school, became the highest elected off icer of the Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe in July, and signed a lease-purchase agreement for a defunct oil refinery in August.

In October, John ""Rocky'' Barrett of Shawnee became one of the few Native Americans to obtain a Defense Department contract.

He says he's the first Native American to own an oil refinery - a purchase that came as oil refineries in Oklahoma and elsewhere have been forced to close because of tough times in the oil patch.

Thirteen refineries operated in Oklahoma during the height of the oil boom at the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s - five large refineries continue in operation today. Barrett is the first to bring back one of the seven smaller refineries to fail during the bust, according to Perry Brinlee, vice president of Barrett Refining Corp.

Barrett symbolizes two sides of Oklahoma's past; his future, he hopes, is one that brings the two together.

He was born with oil in his blood - one fourth of which is Potawatomi - the son of generations of oil men who have drilled for crude during booms and busts. He's the son, too, of a family of Indiana Indians forced south before statehood.

And like the Boomers and Sooners of his father's family who staked a claim to a patch of Oklahoma land during the runs at the turn of the century, and of the oil men who followed, Barrett says he'sattracted to the risks of the business. He talks of risking money to drill and the physical dangers of shimmying up and down an oil rig.

Barrett says he was reading about the Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings of the Oklahoma Refining Co. one day at the Potawatomi tribal headquarters south of Shawnee when he first thought of an Indian-owned refinery.

It didn't matter that 103 refineries around the country had closed in the past 36 months and that drilling activity has been at low ebb since the early 1980s. Barrett, from a long line of risk-takers, pursued the pipedream.

What was a pipedream a few months ago has become a refinery outside of Thomas that's gearing up to manufacture the first of its promised 64,470,000 gallons of JP4 military jet fuel this month.

The going wasn't easy in the beginning, he says. A federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the Oklahoma Refining Co. proceedings approved the $2.7 million lease-purchase agreement in August, but Barrett's one-year contract with the Defense Department didn't come through until Oct. 16.

AWACS and fighter jets will run on Barrett's oil, to be distributed to several Air Force installations in western Oklahoma and southern Kansas, he says. …

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