The Barbers Hill oilfield is located in northwestern Chambers County at the junction of State Highway 146 and Farm Road 1942, near Mont Belvieu, approximately thirty miles northeast of Houston. The field was discovered in April 1916 and named for Barbers Hill, a salt dome named in turn for an early settler, Amos Barber. A water well in the Barbers Hill region had shown traces of natural gas as early as 1889, and serious efforts to find oil were made following the discovery of the Spindletop oilfield in 1901. After some twenty-eight failures, drillers completed a small well at a depth of 1,571 feet in 1916. Although commercial production began two years later, development remained slow until the latter 1920s, when vast quantities of oil were found at greater depths. In 1930 the first well to produce from below the salt dome on the Gulf Coast was brought in at Barbers Hill, at below 5,000 feet.
Peak annual production came in 1931, when 8,085,278 barrels was recovered at Barbers Hill. In 1951 production still stood at more than two million barrels annually, and the cumulative total exceeded ninety-five million barrels. By 1974 oil had been discovered at deeper than 10,000 feet below the surface at Barbers Hill. The total output reached nearly 130 million barrels by the end of 1984. Large quantities of natural gas have also been recovered from the field.
In addition to yielding oil and natural gas, the field has in more recent years served as an underground storage facility. Man-made caverns have been carved from the huge salt dome to store liquid propane gas for the area's numerous refineries. On November 5, 1985, an explosion killed two workers and threatened Mont Belvieu, thus redoubling efforts of local residents to force the petrochemical industries to buy out homes in the immediate vicinity so residents can move elsewhere.