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New museum exhibit showcases oil industry

Posted 5/02/12 (Wed)

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

McKenzie County is certainly the epicenter of North Dakota’s current oil boom. But this is nothing new for McKenzie County. It is the all-time leading oil-producing county in the state and is about to celebrate its 60th year in oil.
The first well in McKenzie County completed drilling in April of 1952. Risser #1 was drilled on Benhomer Risser’s land south of Johnson Corners.
“The rig came in by freight car from Louisiana in 1951,” says John Kirkland, nephew to Risser. “They unloaded it in pieces. I don’t even know if there were jackknife rigs back then.”
Risser #1 was drilled by Amerada under the direction of Bob Demaree. The winter of 1951 was a severe one and it took the crew all winter to drill the well, using 1,200 tons of coal in the process, according to Kirkland.
Risser’s land now belongs to Kirkland and his wife, Cleo. Though the well stopped producing about 10 years ago, the Kirklands have felt a continued connection to oil in McKenzie County.
“I was really fortunate to have been a part of that well,” says Kirkland.
“It’s wonderful, what’s going on now,” adds Cleo. “It’s giving everyone work and building up the county. We should always remember the good it’s done for the county.”
The Kirklands, with their family history in oil in McKenzie County, are now excited about a display soon to be up at the Pioneer Museum. The display will educate visitors about what the oil industry looks like today.
Jessie Scofield, the special projects coordinator for McKenzie County, has been working for the past year and a half on funding and building a new interactive display at the Pioneer Museum showcasing oil technologies, equipment and safeguards.
This new oil display opens in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of oil in McKenzie County and heralds a continuance of leading North Dakota’s oil industry.
“It is so exciting to have this display go up with the anniversary,” says Scofield. “We really are in the center of the industry and this will help complete the story of oil in McKenzie County so far.”
Scofield and the Pioneer Museum have partnered with Mitch Griess of Mitchell Precision Replica Models in Bismarck to produce the display.
“It is important for people to understand the process,” says Griess. “This brings people to the platform who wouldn’t normally have that opportunity.”
The display will feature to-scale models of a drilling rig, a workover rig, trucks, various tanks and a variety of other equipment pieces found on well sites. Within the display, there will also be exhibits detailing Bakken formations, the construction of horizontal wells, environmental  safeguards and groundwater protection, as well as supplemental material on jobs and technologies.
“People come to the museum wanting to know more about the industry. They have questions about safety, drilling techniques and groundwater protection,” says Scofield. “This will allow them to learn about the process without having to go out to a rig and worry about safety concerns.”
Griess has been working in replica production for 18 years and has worked on projects for Williston State College and the Heritage Museum in Bismarck. He works mostly on projects related to the oil and gas industry.
Griess’s work on the Pioneer Museum’s oil display will feature highly accurate and detailed replicas of the newest technologies used in the field.
“I think any time we can educate people and show the positive side of industry, everyone’s better off,” explains Griess.
Griess finds this so important, in fact, that he donated half of his labor to the project.
“Mitch approached the McKenzie County Job Development Authority about doing a project,” says Scofield. “He feels very strongly about having an educational display like this at such a integral position in the industry.”
Besides the Kirklands, donations have come in from all over the county, and not just from oil companies. The oil industry affects all facets of life in McKenzie County and all kinds of businesses are donating in recognition of its importance to the local economy.
Donations are still needed, however, to sponsor a variety of equipment featured in the display.
“This is such a good way for companies to have a known presence as a permanent fixture in the industry in the area,” says Scofield.
Any companies or individuals interested in becoming sponsors and permanent pieces in the display can contact Scofield at 701-770-8659 or jessieveeder@gmail.com.
The Pioneer Museum will host the display as a permanent installation and hopes to encourage increased interest and education in the oil and gas industry.
“This display will show what’s going on in our backyard,” explains Scofield. “It’s important that we understand our own story.”
Scofield also hopes the display will encourage local youth to consider job opportunities in the oil and gas industry, whether it is in environmental protection, engineering, production or any other facet of the industry.
The Pioneer Museum is located in the Long X Visitor Center at the corner of Main Street and 2nd Avenue Southwest. The display underwent its first phase of installation last Friday and is open this week for visitors to view. In the coming months, the display will continue to grow as more equipment pieces are fabricated, display diagrams are installed and interactive animations become available.
The grand opening for the display will be held later this summer and will be a joint celebration with the 60th anniversary of oil in McKenzie County.