But though the two industries have seen their heydays and hardships, the dynamics of the natural gas boom today leave local businesses more optimistic about the future of the industry. And because the two industries are so closely related, many from producers to drillers to equipment specialists have made successful transitions from drilling for oil 20 years ago to drilling for natural gas today.

Goldsberry, of oil and gas producers Goldsberry Operating Co., in Shreveport, has been in the business for 47 years the first 37 mostly in oil, the past 10 in natural gas. He switched to natural gas because prices seemed more stable at the time.

Cottle joined Petrochem Operating Co. in February after 20 years at a packaging plant and five years rough-necking on an oil rig in Cotton Valley before that.

The 46-year-old checks wells, takes readings and makes sure they're operating properly. It's different work from his days on the rig, but Cottle regards his new job as a better opportunity, by comparison.

During the most recent oil boom, prices started climbing from $3.25 a barrel in 1973 to around $30 a barrel in the early 1980s, Allen said. That would change as then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan saw oil prices as a way to damage the Soviet Union's oil and gas-heavy economy, said Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.

Reagan made a deal with Saudi Arabia to flood the world market in oil in order to drive its price down and destroy Russia's exporting economy, he said. But the Soviet Union's economy wasn't the only one affected.

Prices for oil dropped to $9 a barrel in 1986, Allen said. The U.S. went from more than 4,000 rigs running at the start of 1982 to less than the 1,700 running today.

In Oil City, Allen remembered the local grocery store going out of business, as well as an insurance company and a restaurant. Some of the local producers went out of business, too.

Banks that had loans with producers took huge hits, he said. Many closed down their oil and gas lending departments altogether. And many severed their ties to oil businesses, said Dickie Jester, an oil veteran who now is vice president of gas supply with Laser Midstream Co., a gas gathering company in Shreveport.

Natural gas has been in what is now Caddo and Bossier parishes since it started forming roughly 400 million years ago. But until 2000 it just wasn't economical to drill for it, experts said.

In October 1976, the average monthly price for 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas was 62 cents, according to The U.S. Energy Information Administration. In October 2005, it was just under $11.

In the mid-1800s, people in Shreveport first started manufacturing natural gas from burning pine knots, said Laura McLemore, archivist at LSUS' Noel Memorial Library. In 1870, gas was first discovered in Caddo Parish, she added.

Evidence of that: United Gas Pipeline Co. (which began as United Gas Corp. before a spinoff) moved into its 10-story Shreveport headquarters in 1940 on Fairfield Avenue what is now the State Office Building.

However, in 1975 the last of 400 employees were transferred to the new headquarters in Houston. Similarly, another big player, Texas Eastern, announced in 1977 that its 450 employees would move from the Shreveport headquarters to Houston. Texas Eastern had been in Shreveport for 30 years.

Today, even though oil prices remain high, local companies are overwhelmingly drilling for and producing natural gas, Allen said. And because the local economy has diversified considerably, it should not take too large a hit if ever they no longer feel it's economical to do so.

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