Little Oil vs. Big Oil

“The slant-hole story is a significant piece of Texas history, and it must be told before no one is left to tell it.”

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About the Author

Robert Cargill

Robert Cargill Jr. is a native son of East Texas where as a child he was fascinated by the flaring gas from oil wells in his grandfather’s back yard. He studied chemistry at Rice, earned a PhD at MIT, and was a research fellow at the University of California at Berkeley before becoming a chemistry professor at the University of South Carolina in 1962. His research there led to what became known as the “Cargill Rearrangement” and to the Russell Award for Excellence in Research in 1974. In 1980 he joined his father’s oil and gas business in East Texas that had suffered from the effects of the oil crises of the late 1970s. He maintains interests in the East Texas Oil Field and in other oil deposits. He is an active alumnus of Rice and MIT. He and his wife Martha have a blended family of seven children, twelve grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. He and Martha live in Dallas.

Book Reviews

Book Synopsis

Robert Cargill (11-24-2015)
Little Oil - independent oilmen and East Texans - viewed Big Oil - the major oil companies - as a rapacious Goliath bent on exterminating them. Those feelings, right or wrong, arose from the overt acts of Big Oil between 1910 and 1930 that delayed the discovery of the East Texas Oil Field until a con man - very Little Oil -stumbled onto it in October 1930. Local farmers praised the independents as their saviors and hated Big Oil.

By 1946, salt water had invaded the western half of the field leaving the wells on that portion of the field to produce only water. Big Oil reentered some of those watered out wells with special equipment that directed their drill bits eastward back into the remaining oil, and gave their old wells new life.

Little oil saw they could do the same thing drilling westward from beyond the eastern limit of the field back into the oil-bearing sand. Thus they drilled into leases owned by Big Oil and thereby allegedly stole between 10 and 20 million barrels of oil from their big competitors. They bribed employees of the Texas Railroad Commission and the well servicing companies to abet their thefts. Of course, they got caught in 1962.

Investigations by the attorney general and the Texas Rangers led to 379 indictments of 63 individuals, but East Texans remembered the refusal of Big Oil to drill on their lands before Columbus Joiner’s accidental discovery. They inflicted their own justice upon Big Oil as jurors in criminal and civil suits by refusing to convict their Little Oil friends. Big Oil and the attorney general collected nominal sums in civil fines and settled lawsuits. And the thieves went on with life a bit richer and feeling justified in their acts.

This book tells in detail what Big Oil did, or didn't do, to incur the wrath of East Texans, and the who, why, when, and how the little guys avenged Big Oil's offenses.

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