In 2003, Texas geologist John Amoruso had a hunch that there was a lot of natural gas — and big money — in a previously unexplored geological area about midway between Houston and Dallas.
It was a long shot. To prove his theory, Amoruso needed somebody willing to take a big risk and put up money to acquire land and drill the Deep Bossier sands of Richardson County.
Then, one day, he met Guma Aguiar — the Fort Lauderdale man who recently disappeared at sea. They sat down to talk. Amoruso's hunch was about to make Aguiar a very rich man.
"I met Guma at the Gulf Coast Geological Library in downtown Houston," recalls Amoruso, who runs a petroleum-exploration business and is a former president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Amoruso first met a representative for Aguiar. "Then I saw [Guma] in the background, looking at some maps."
Aguiar was in town on behalf of his uncle Tom Kaplan, with whom he was seeking a high-stakes wager on oil and gas to prepare for a possible peak-oil scenario.
Aguiar didn't have much experience in the oil-and-gas field, but Kaplan was excited about experimental drilling and sent him to explore the options. Amoruso says that Aguiar and his uncle appeared to have a "very nice relationship" and that they "looked very cordial and close."
The geologist laid out his plans: At the site of an underground limestone shelf, an ancient riverbed had sent debris off the edge and into a deeper area where sediment collected. The sand, called Bossier sand, on the shallow area on top of the shelf had already been drilled, with limited success. Amoruso thought that if they were to drill deeper, into the sediment that had collected off the edge, they'd find that the high-pressure situation had created large deposits of natural gas.
"This was precisely the type of conceptual exploration that Kaplan thrived on," says a lawsuit Kaplan later filed against Aguiar.
To the hopeful geologist, Aguiar seemed receptive. "He was a down-to-earth fellow and a quick study," says Amoruso. "He was a heck of a nice guy to do business and be friends with."
Kaplan and Aguiar put up the money for an experimental well, and the results were good. Using old-fashioned vertical drilling techniques with a little hydraulic fracturing to free up the gas, they tapped into a vast deposit underlying Richardson County. This would later be known as the Amoruso Field.
"It was really a frontier play," says Amoruso. There was little precedent to show whether it would work or not, but Aguiar's business sense had paid off.
Aguiar and Kaplan set up a company, Leor Exploration and Production LLC, to manage their newfound fortune. They continued to acquire acreage and new wells for a number of years and brought energy giant EnCana in as a suitor to their claim. They negotiated a partial sale to EnCana and later arranged to sell the whole field for $2.55 billion.
Amoruso estimates that the total gas reserve may total 2.4 trillion cubic feet. That's one-tenth of all the gas used in America in 2011. Amoruso says he didn't get rich off the claims, with his company instead taking "a small override," or commission, on sales.
Throughout the exploration and the sale to EnCana, Amoruso maintained occasional contact with Aguiar. But then, Aguiar's life took a different direction. "Guma was a very strong Jew," says Amoruso. "He went over to Israel [in 2006], and I lost contact with him."
At first, Aguiar had been paid only a salary for his work with Leor, but in 2006, he requested and was given a 10 percent equity stake in 2006. In 2009, Leor and Kaplan's representatives sued Aguiar in federal court for allegedly mismanaging company funds for personal gain and neglecting his responsibilities.
"I don't know what that's all about," says Amoruso of the lawsuit. "We really like and feel close to [both] Tom and Guma. It's tough to see friends fighting."
Amoruso says he learned of Aguiar's disappearance in the newspaper and was devastated to hear the bad news about the beneficiary of his biggest idea. He says he hates to think of Aguiar caught out at sea, although "Guma is a very good athlete."
"I don't know what happened out there," he says. "But I will hope like mad."