Documentary looks at oil and gas

PARKERSBURG – West Virginia – and in particular the Burning Springs area of Wirt County – plays an often-overlooked role in the history of the oil and natural gas industry.

That history is the subject of a new documentary entitled “Burning Springs” which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Tuesday on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. For Suddenlink customers in the Parkersburg area, it will appear on Channel 12, while CAS Cable customers can watch it on Channel 6.

The documentary’s producer, Diana Sole Walko, is owner of Charleston-based MotionMasters. A few years ago she picked up the book, “Where it All Began,” by Parkersburg historian David McKain – and the idea for her next project was born.

“I’m a student of West Virginia history and have produced several documentaries for broadcast on West Virginia Public Broadcasting,” said Sole Walko. “When I read David’s book, I was fascinated. Although I’m a state native, I had very little knowledge about the the significant role our state played in the development of the oil and gas industry. So I did some additional research. I ordered every documentary I could find about the oil and gas industry and none of them gave even a passing nod to events that occurred here. That’s when I knew: I had to do this piece.”

The result was “Burning Springs,” an hour-long documentary which relies heavily on McKain’s substantial research, she said. Sole Walko said McKain is one of five historians who are featured in the piece. Four of the five are published authors and the fifth interview was with the curator of the Drake Museum in Titusville, Pa.

As the documentary explains, West Virginia’s oil and gas industry has roots in the salt industry of the Kanawha Valley. That is where many of the tools and techniques of the drilling trade were first developed.

Parkersburg and the surrounding region is featured prominently in the film. The documentary takes its name from the phrase that Indians and early settlers used to describe the naturally occurring seeps where oil and gas bubbled up from beneath the surface. And the town of Burning Springs in Wirt County plays a significant historical role as well.

Using excerpts from actual diaries from the period, the producers used voice actors to relay the events of a Confederate raid on the oilfields at Burning Springs. Re-enactors were also hired since there are no actual photographs of the raid by Confederate generals William “Grumble” Jones and John D. Imboden.

The documentary is narrated by Nashville musician Lionel Cartwright, a native of Glen Dale, W.Va. It was edited by Parkersburg resident Wesley Poole, a videographer and editor who has worked at MotionMasters for more than 15 years. Poole also shot portions of the video, including some re-enactors in Civil War era clothing and uniforms.

“It was a really interesting piece to do, ” Poole said. “Whenever we do these documentaries, I learn a lot of history – and this one was particularly interesting since Parkersburg figures so prominently in the storyline.”

McKain is the founder and curator of the Oil and Gas Museum, along with authoring several books on local history in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

McKain said he is looking forward to seeing the documentary when it airs Tuesday. In addition to writing the book on which it is based, he also provided a lot of supporting material and images from the oil and gas museum in Parkersburg about Burning Springs for Poole’s use in editing the production.

McKain said his book goes beyond Burning Springs and helps outline West Virginia’s contributions to the early oil and gas industry and its history. Looking ahead, McKain said he is interested in seeing how West Virginia will participate and contribute to the present and the future through the growing development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits.

“Burning Springs” is the most recent work produced by MotionMasters to air on WVPBS. “A Moving Monument: A History of the West Virginia Capitols” and “Soul of the Senate: U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd” are two of several documentaries that have had repeated showings on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.