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Bill Thornton

COO, MegaWest Energy
Calgary, Alberta

Bill Thornton, 52, leads the field operations for MegaWest, an early-stage startup hunting for heavy oil in the United States, particularly in Kansas, Kentucky, and Missouri.

"There are large quantities of heavy oil in the United States that have been virtually ignored by major oil companies, because it's been too expensive to extract and refine. But as long as oil prices are above $28 a barrel, you can make good money. While the majors are off hunting elephants—deep-water exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, Africa, or Asia—they left behind a tremendous opportunity. Heavy oil is just a slice of the solution to our dependence on foreign oil, but a very big slice.

We are acquiring properties now. With each project, we create a geological model of what it looks like underground. We then send samples of the rock to Canada, where the heavy-oil industry is more established, for analysis. We would be happy to get 50,000 barrels a day. We see ourselves as pioneers."

A version of this article appeared in the October 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.