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Drilling Ahead - The Quest for Oil in the Deep South, 1945–2005

Drilling Ahead

The Quest for Oil in the Deep South, 1945–2005

By Alan Cockrell
Paperback : 9781496849694, 350 pages, 75 photographs; 15 maps, November 2023

An overview of the petroleum industry in the Deep South since World War II


The discovery of oil in Tinsley, Mississippi, in 1939 captivated the South and has deeply affected the region ever since. At the end of 1940, over 133 wells were flowing, and speculators were drilling holes and staking claims all along the Gulf Coast and its immediate environs. Consequently, the region's economy, ecosystems, and politics have been shaped by black gold since the end of World War II.

Alan Cockrell, a petroleum geologist, provides an insider's account of the science of oil hunting, the political processes that help or hinder it, and the advances in technology that make it all possible. This book documents the ways in which wars, foreign competition, governmental regulation, and new business models affect oil exploration, and what that means to the South's people.

Just as significantly, Cockrell provides compelling commentary on the people who hunt for petroleum, from pioneering wildcatters such as Chesley Pruet to savvy geologists focusing on science and technology Drilling Ahead documents the triumphs and travails of oil hunters. Mavericks, underworld characters, professors, lawyers, and environmentalists have all played major roles in the South's oil production.

A fascinating study of corporations, economies, and people, Drilling Ahead is a compelling, opinionated narrative as well as an exhaustively researched history.

Published for the Mississippi Geological Society


"Drilling Ahead is a valuable addition to the history of the petroleum industry."

- Diana Davids Hinton, Technology and Culture

"Alan Cockrell has captured the excitement of oil booms in the southeastern states which flourished during the last half of the twentieth century. A valuable history is preserved of key individuals and companies that drilled the hundreds of oil and gas wells in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to bring new wealth to these states."

- Dudley J. Hughes, author of Oil in the Deep South: A History of the Oil Business in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, 1859–1945

"This book is extremely informative and well researched. It also tells about the colorful characters who developed much of the oil and gas industry in the Southeast, especially Mississippi and Alabama. Chesley Pruet would be the most intriguing character of all, and he was well respected. In addition, this is a good read."

- Robert Mosbacher, Mosbacher Energy, Inc.; US Secretary of Commerce, 1989–1992

"Drilling Ahead is a highly accessible, often colorful account of oil exploration and development in Mississippi, Alabama, and northwest Florida in the post-World War II period."

- Evan R. Ward, The Journal of Southern History