Oklahoma History Center Executive Director Bob Blackburn had no trouble raising the $1 million needed to drastically overhaul the museum's oil and natural gas exhibit.
“I told our local energy executives that we've let Hollywood tell our story for too long and that we need to tell it accurately and honestly,” Blackburn said.
The upgrade will include improvements to both the inside and outside oil and natural gas exhibits.
John Groendyke on Wednesday delivered a restored 1964 oil transporter the company used to haul oil from well sites throughout the state.
“If you look at western Oklahoma at all the things that Devon and Chesapeake and Continental Resources and so many other companies have done for the growth of Oklahoma and our industry, I think it speaks well of Oklahoma,” Groendyke said.
“Oklahoma has always had a can-do attitude. My dad used to say, ‘It might be difficult, but it's not impossible if you make up your mind that you're going to get it done.' I think that dogged determination to be successful and to get it done makes Oklahoma stand out.”
Along with the addition outside, the museum is revamping its presentation inside.
The new indoor exhibit is expected to open in February.
“We're trying to show the public that oil and gas is more than just drilling for oil and gas,” Blackburn said. “That is a very easily understood part of the process. But we want to show what's there before the drilling and after the drilling. That is the part of the industry the general public doesn't always understand.”
The exhibit will begin with the end user and then explain where the oil and natural gas comes from. The two entrances to the exhibit feature a replica 1964 Kerr-McGee gas station and a natural gas burning stove.
“Most exhibits like this start with rocks. That's the passion of the oil patch, but that is only part of the story,” Blackburn said. “Where most Oklahomans will never fully understand geology, almost everyone understands putting gas in a car and turning the nozzle for a blue flame on your stove.”
The display will feature a replica of a Helmerich and Payne flex rig, interactive exhibits and historical photos.
The exhibit also will include the legacy of the oil industry, which includes conservation, community philanthropy and landmarks.
“The quality of life and education in Oklahoma would not be the same without the oil and gas industry,” Blackburn said.
The exhibit also will include stories about six people representing different jobs in the industry.
“I'm hoping that visitors will connect the dots, that they will see just drilling a well is not the oil and gas industry,” Blackburn said. “That's an important part, but you cannot understand Oklahoma history without understanding the impact of oil and gas in Oklahoma.”
The new oil and natural gas exhibit will replace the existing display that has been at the museum since 2005.
“The first exhibit had too much of an emphasis on what you would see in a science museum,” Blackburn said. “It was based more on the geology and finding oil and gas instead of the history of oil and gas in Oklahoma.”
The most substantial reason for the change is that Blackburn and his team at the historical center have spent much of the past several years building the collection that will now be displayed.
The biggest gain for the collection came from one of the city's biggest losses in recent years.
When Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. bought Kerr-McGee Corp., Blackburn immediately called Kerr-McGee CEO Luke Corbett and asked for the company's archives.
He called nearly every day for three months before he received an answer.
“Finally one day I got a call from Luke,” Blackburn said. “He said the guys in Houston would let us have the collection if we could get it out in three days. We rented a truck and headed over.”
Blackburn and his team left Kerr-McGee Tower with 800,000 pictures, 700 reels of film and boxes of Dean McGee's personal files.
Blackburn said he hopes the exhibit will connect the industry to a typical Oklahoman's daily life.
“This is not just something to think about when the issue of gross production taxes comes up,” he said. “It's more important than just when we debate about fracking or when the price of gas goes up 40 cents.
“For us to make good decisions about our future, we have to understand our past. We have to understand the history of oil and gas in Oklahoma to understand Oklahoma going forward.”