William Herbert Hunt was once one of the wealthiest men on Earth. With his brother, Nelson Bunker Hunt, the billionaire bought more than 195 million ounces of silver -- 60 percent of the U.S. market -- in the 1970s. By early 1980, their stake was valued at more than $9 billion.

The Hunts’ position imploded when silver prices plummeted 80 percent over the course of a few weeks in March 1980, culminating 33 years ago this week on what traders called Silver Thursday. The crash rattled Wall Street and sent the Texas brothers into bankruptcy.

Hunt is once again a billionaire, this time with oil. In October, he sold 43 percent of the North Dakota petroleum assets owned by his closely held Petro-Hunt LLC for $1.45 billion to Houston-based Halcon Resources Corp. The cash and stock deal made Hunt Halcon’s largest shareholder and boosted his net worth to $4.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“The numbers are out there,” said Hunt, 84, in a telephone interview from his Dallas headquarters. “We’re a family-owned company -- a private company -- and are really not interested in being out in the public arena.”

Hunt hasn’t appeared on an international wealth ranking in 25 years. He said oil will continue to fuel the U.S. economy.

“The people of the United States don’t recognize it, but the oil industry has given the greatest gift to the people of the nation, and that gift is the low cost of energy,” he said. “Bottom line is this enables the country to be very competitive manufacturing-wise and in the world economy.”

Harold Hamm

The $9,500 per acre Halcon paid for Hunt’s land is about average for recent deals in the Williston Basin, according to Eli Kantor, Senior Exploration and Production Analyst with Iberia Capital Partners LLC in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“There really is no ability to increase your exposure through grassroots leasing,” said Kantor. “So for these companies to boost their oil exposure, it is going to have been done through M&A. That is putting a premium on undeveloped acres in the Williston.”

The Williston Basin, also known as the Bakken, is a geological formation covering North Dakota as well as parts of South Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan. The largest contiguous oilfield in the U.S., the Williston has the potential to be the largest producing field in the world over the next 30 years, according to Harold Hamm, the billionaire chairman of oil and gas producer Continental Resources Inc.