Gas Pump Tourist: Traveling America with 3 Surprising Stories

August 20, 2013

As American families travel on summer vacation, gasoline prices are front-and-center every time they stop to fill the tank. The United States is fortunate to have the roads and infrastructure that enables relatively easy travel around the country.  Moreover, energy is reasonably priced when compared to most developed countries around the world. The United States is blessed with energy abundance because of the risk-taking by the entrepreneurial men and women of the more than 150-year-old oil and natural gas industry. This industry is a fundamental component of the industrial success of America. 

Traveling across the back roads and small towns of America from Pennsylvania to California and from Texas to Alaska, drilling rigs and pump jacks can be seen in some 30 oil and natural gas-producing states. As you plan that trip to visit family, the beach, or the mountains, you may need a place to stop for a break.  Consider one of the baker’s dozen oil and natural gas museums that chronicle the industry history in North America. 

Here are three examples of what you may learn by stopping at one of these museums. 

At the Drake Museum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, you’ll learn that Native Americans collected oil along the Pennsylvania Creeks before Columbus discovered America. Oil is a part of nature. Fortunately, nature is also very good at breaking down and minimizing the harmful effects of crude oil in its natural form when in small quantities. 

In Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the Phillips Petroleum Company Museum highlights the discovery of plastic, launching the Hula Hoop craze of the 1950’s.  Products from petroleum enhance our lives and are used in ways far beyond the energy to power transportation. Oil is a feedstock for manufacturing thousands of products from plastics to medicines. 

At the Anchorage Museum in Alaska, see a piece of the huge Trans-Alaska pipeline. The pipeline stretches 800 miles across some of the most remote and difficult terrain in the world. Building this pipeline required more than 70,000 employees over a three-year period using materials manufactured from around the United States.  This is a real example that building a major pipeline creates a large number of high paying jobs.  These jobs are not just for pipeline construction, but include those required to manufacture the supplies and equipment required for the project. 

In the future, a museum in North Dakota capturing the history of the Bakken shale will be a likely addition to the list of museums.  The North Dakota museum would show how North Dakota led the nation in reversing the decline of crude oil production in just a few years in the 2010s, becoming the second largest oil producing state in the nation. While Bakken oil production resulted in increasing U.S. oil output, North Dakotans benefited through high paying jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in the country, around 3%. This economic growth occurred during a time when much of the United States struggled to rebound from recession. Tax revenue resulting from oil and natural gas activity allowed the State to establish a permanent budget reserve fund with income that exceeded expenditures by as much as 40% of the general fund budget. 

The oil and gas industry has a rich history of entrepreneurs taking risks and creating successful businesses supporting the growth of communities and employing thousands of people.  It is also the story of science and technology advances providing solutions to challenges and opening opportunities.    

Learning about our history helps us understand our present and future.  Even better, understanding and using lessons from our past helps improve our policy decisions today. 

Photo: Derek Jensen, August 20, 2005