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Former "Big Oil Insider" Turned Environmentalist Writes Book About Experiences In Oklahoma


Tom Cochrane is a professional geologist and writer who spent 25 years in Oklahoma working in the oil industry. But the former "Big Oil Insider" has since morphed into an avid environmentalist. He's written a book about his experiences called, Tornados, Rattlesnakes & Oil.

KGOU's Richard Bassett sat down with Cochrane to discuss the work.

Full Interview Transcript:

Richard Bassett: Tornadoes, Rattlesnakes & Oil is your second book. In it, I really came to appreciate how you balanced memoir style storytelling with historical and scientific information regarding fossil fuels and the oil industry. Tell us a little bit about the book and what inspired you to write it this way.

Tom Cochrane: OK. Well, it started out because where I live in California there are a lot of people who don't know anything about the oil industry or anything about the geology associated with looking for oil. And then it became an autobiography from that. I had to go back and set my environmental upbringing and then getting into the fossil fuel industry and then finally going into retirement in Northern California. And there's a lot of interesting funny stories in it. How I became a wildcatter, I attributed to the leprechauns leading me to an X on the ground from a rainbow.

Bassett: Trying to find the black gold.

Cochrane: Right, trying to find black gold. So you'll enjoy that story. My first day at Pan American Petroleum is a very interesting experience I had with the district geologist. So yeah, I avowed that I would learn the oil business. And he said "Yeah. You won't be here for long."

Bassett: So you entered the oil industry at a slow time. It took you 35 interviews to land your first job. Being part memoir, you write honestly about the struggles you faced while trying to pursue a career and start a family. A lot of those moments are set here in the Oklahoma City metro area.

Cochrane: That's correct. And I have a lot of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who live in the area currently.

Bassett: You also reveal an interesting evolution in your own way of thinking regarding the environment and the future of fossil fuels. How do you see that playing out in the decades to come?

Cochrane: Economics will of course play a role as solar has become much more economical and wind farms. Wind turbines are exceedingly growing in number, particularly in Oklahoma and Kansas. I understand that the largest wind turbine farm in North America is being currently constructed in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Now that's impressive.

Bassett: So was there a point where you're line of thinking really changed?

Cochrane: Yes. I've always been conscious I think. The picture in front of front cover my book shows a blow out in northern Oklahoma and it happened within two months of when I moved to Oklahoma. First drills and tests I went out to observe, when I was working for Pan American, when they opened the test they didn't have it properly tied down and the pipe was thrashing around the rig and gas was spraying around and everybody ran for their lives and we thought it was going to hit the hot engines at any instant and we were going to have you know a tremendous explosion. But luckily the drillers saved the day and shut the tool in.

Bassett: That's interesting because actually I remember reading that section and it came out, it was last year that there was an accident on an oil rig not far from here where there were some fatalities and it turned out that there was not enough oversight and the accident could have been prevented.

Cochrane: Human error and human oversight is our biggest problem. You know we've got the technology down we understand it. We could prevent earthquakes, you know, from fracking. All this technology is known it just, it may take a few more dollars to implement it. But oil and gas are not going to go away for a long time in the future. So, as much as we would love to see everything as electric cars and everything else, it's not happening, certainly not happening very fast in Oklahoma.

Bassett: You do seem a little skeptical about people in the heartland wanting to change their dependency on oil and ... What larger message should people take away from reading Tornadoes, Rattlesnakes and Oil?

Cochrane: Well, you know I think that when you live on the East Coast and the West Coast and you look at the Mid-Continent there certainly is a difference in attitude of how people look at it. And Oklahomans I think tend to dismiss green energy. And yet here we are with the largest wind farm in North America being constructed here. So green energy's coming. Wind and solar are irregular, in you know how they produce electricity, so we're going to always need some natural gas to supplement the green energy part of it. So, I see that the percentages will slowly through the years increase toward green energy and decrease in hydrocarbons.

Bassett: Tom Cochrane is a geologist and writer. In his new book, Tornados, Rattlesnakes & Oil, Tom discusses his experiences working in the oil industry in Oklahoma and his transition into an avid environmentalist.

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