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From neurons to natural gas: Psychologist prepares for a new career in oil and gas

Photo courtesy of Tim Istre.

Photo courtesy of Tim Istre.

After a 21-year career in therapy, Tim Istre felt he had gone as high as he could go. And his job wasn’t interesting to him anymore. So he left it behind, and now Istre finds himself prepared to launch into the oil industry.

Istre graduated from Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) in Bossier City, Louisiana, back in May, earning his degree from the oil and gas production technology program. Istre is still taking courses, though, and in May 2015, he will graduate with another degree, this time from the industrial technology program with an emphasis in automation controls and instrumentation.

Istre didn’t transition immediately from being a therapist to studying at BPCC. First, he cashed out his 401k and tried his hand at real estate, but that didn’t seem satisfying either. When he found out about the programs offered at BPCC, he realized it was the right path to take, a path that would challenge him and make life interesting.

This isn’t Istre’s first foray into the industry. From 1980 to 1987, he worked on offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn’t new in his family. Istre’s father recently retired after a 60-year career in oil and gas both off- and onshore. “I grew up around a lot of family members who were involved in the oil fields, so I know the oil field like the back of my hand. I know how it runs,” he said in an interview. In truth, it’s a wonder it took Istre so long to circle back.

Istre has an entertaining collection of stories from his seven years offshore. “I remember in 1982, I worked on a platform about 35 miles off the coastline for a company called Sun Oil, and the person who was running the platform was a big 300-something pound man with a big ol’ long beard. And he actually had three hogs on the platform that he was raising.” It’s hard to imagine activities like this taking place on an oil rig today.

In fact, much has changed in the last three decades. “When I worked offshore, they didn’t have any regulations. They just didn’t,” Istre admitted. “I can’t tell you how many hundreds and hundreds and thousands of gallons of some toxic chemicals that I personally dumped overboard because that’s what I was told to do.” But today, this kind of activity would land oil companies thousands of dollars in fines. Particularly after the events of the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, there are more safety regulations than ever. “The regulation part of the oil and gas industry is a big thing,” Istre said, “and these people are taking it seriously. Not only the state officials, but the oil companies themselves.”

At BPCC, the oil and gas production technology program is geared toward making its students well-versed in the safety regulations required today. Amongst courses on Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certifications, BPCC also requires a course called Safe Land, Safe Gulf. This three-credit course combines onshore regulations with offshore safety education. “You have a whole different aspect of safety regulations when you go offshore,” Istre explained, “because you start getting involved with the Coast Guard and things like that.”

In addition to safety regulation courses, students in the program also take courses about the geology behind oil and gas. “It started out with how the earth is formed, where the oil came from, how to go about mapping it, and basically finding the oil from a geology standpoint,” Istre described. The program also covers the process of creating a drilling site as well as the different types of drilling and production techniques.

Outside of school, Istre spends his time hunting and fishing. He also has two daughters who live in South Carolina, as well as two grandchildren—a five-year-old grandson and an infant granddaughter—he says he doesn’t get to see as often as he’d like.

Istre is excited about the doors his new degrees will help to open. With a wide variety of skills in production and industry technology, combined with seven years of experience already gained offshore, Istre believes he’s a marketable candidate for jobs all across the country. He’s been keeping his eye on several companies that work throughout the U.S., and even though he’s never been up north, he’s even looking at the Bakken.

Whatever path he takes, Istre knows he’s sure to be challenged far more than he was as a therapist. The industry is constantly changing, and the newer, advanced technologies were part of what drew him back. But Istre acknowledges that the technology is incredibly different from his time offshore. “Everything was done hydraulically or pneumatically,” he said. “Over the past 20 years, they’ve drifted away from hydraulics and moved to pneumatics. Now they’re drifting away from pneumatics and going to what they call programmable logic controllers (PLCs).” Istre’s second degree will help him stay on top of the developing technology, such as PLCs, and he looks forward to putting his education to use to take on any career challenges that come his way.

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