Energizing the public

May 16, 2005
One of the more interesting venues in which activities were held during the recent Offshore Technology Conference in Houston was the world-class Houston Museum of Natural Science.

One of the more interesting venues in which activities were held during the recent Offshore Technology Conference in Houston was the world-class Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Guests at any of several receptions held there mingled around bones of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures in the main paleontology area and admired gems, minerals, and other exhibits in various museum chambers.

OTC guests also were the first to view the museum’s newly renovated, state-of-the-art Wiess Energy Hall, which is touted as the world’s most comprehensive and sophisticated display of scientific concepts and advanced technology for the energy industry.

Actual equipment, along with computerized graphics, myriad touch screens, holographic video displays, and virtual reality exhibits, enhance the experience of visitors at the hall, which was introduced to the general public May 6, following the close of OTC.

Energizing the public

Exhibits such as this help educate the public about energy production and might also whet the interests of young people in establishing careers in the industry-a much-needed service to augment an aging workforce.

Because the museum presents its information in such an entertaining and interactive fashion, the exhibits have a strong impact on visitors, making them more likely to remember the experience and discuss it with others.

Many oil and gas companies and service contractors worked closely with the museum, some of them sponsoring exhibits and providing equipment. Included are a 9-ft-tall christmas tree, a transparent mechanical lift system, a working seismic shot, and tilting glass panels containing oil and various sizes of marbles that demonstrate porosity.

Such facilities promote interest in the industry and its operations and clarify the function and applicability of various industry equipment and technology. This approach makes the industry much more current and “real” than merely exhibiting photos with text to catalog the history of the industry.

Moving museums ahead

The original Wiess Energy Hall, presented as a gift to the museum in the 1960s by Humble Oil Co. cofounder and president, Harry C. Weiss, was known as the Wiess Hall of Petroleum Science and Technology. The hall was renovated in 1994 as a showcase for technology being developed in the oil and gas industry.

The hall’s latest transformation, with its 21st Century bells and whistles, has set a world standard for energy exhibits and has drawn the attention of exhibit developers worldwide. Designers from China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Norway, Argentina, and Australia have visited the facility to garner ideas.

“Our goal is to keep Wiess Energy Hall on the cutting edge,” said Joel A. Bartsch, president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “Everything in the exhibit is state-of-the art, from the new energy technologies featured to the computer interactives visitors use during their visit.”

These latest programs and more-advanced, “mind-expanding” displays feature 12 sections that begin with the creation of the universe and progress through formation of the continents and development of hydrocarbons on Earth. The geology section features a 10-ft rock wall from West Texas that comes to life to display faults and formations. The geography section uses satellite data to pinpoint the locations of 800 top oil and gas fields.

“Exploration” features modern discovery techniques and devices, including magnetometers, gravimeters, and 3D and 4D seismic. “Drilling” simulates an excursion underground with a drillbit and shows how wells are drilled, cased, cemented, and perforated.

The museum also covers reservoirs, production, processing, and products. Its refinery exhibit includes the demonstration of a vortex separator for removal of sediment from oil. Other exhibits show alternative energy sources, including wind turbine and Tokamak fusion reactor models and a working model of a fuel cell.

Other global facilities

The web site of the Society of Petroleum Engineers [spe.org] lists other major petroleum museums around the world, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, and facilities promoted in conjunction with various petroleum engineering studies.

Museums such as these can be useful to the industry for training. And they can help people not in the industry appreciate the technology and science of the energy they use.