A symbol of Canada’s oil economy moves to Ingenium’s Collections Conservation Centre

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Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation

An artifact that symbolizes Canada’s long history of oil extraction will soon have a new home.

Weighing in at nearly 16,000 kg, an oil pump jack is among the largest artifacts slated to move into the Collections Conservation Centre, a state-of-the-art facility that’s currently under construction next to the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

“It was one of the first pieces in the collection,” says Anna Adamek, director of Ingenium’s curatorial division. She explains that the oil pump jack travelled from Saskatchewan to Ottawa in 1967, when it was donated to the Canada Science and Technology Museum by the Canadian Petroleum Association (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers).

Oil pump jacks are a familiar sight in the Canadian prairies, but in other parts of the country people don’t have the chance to see them. That was one of the reasons that the museum staff chose to display the massive artifact on its front lawn until early 2015.

“We decided to have it outside because of the size, but also because people in Ottawa aren’t familiar with this technology,” says Adamek.

In 2014, the original museum closed for three years due to mould. A full rebuild followed, with the museum reopening to the public in late 2017. With the new museum’s construction taking place right where the oil pump jack was displayed, it was necessary to move the artifact into storage. Now, the oil pump jack will have a home on the main level of the Collections Conservation Centre, with plans in the works for regular public tours.

Adamek says the artifact represents a key period in the history of the Canadian economy. Post Second World War, the oil pump jack was used during a time of exponential growth of the oil industry in Saskatchewan.

 “It really speaks to the very early extraction of heavy oil in Canada,” she says, adding that the pump was manufactured in the 1950s. “The major discovery of oil in Alberta was in 1947; that was the discovery that changed the whole global landscape of oil — that discovery firmly placed Canada among the top three countries in terms of oil reserves.”

~ Anna Adamek

In heavy oil extraction, pumps need to work very hard to pull the oil out of the ground.

“This type of pump is called ‘Huff and Puff,’” explains Adamek. “Huff is the stage when a recovery enhancement medium — such as steam — is injected to the well, and puff is the stage when the oil is pumped up.”

Adamek adds that heavy oil technology got more and more complicated as the economy moved to heavier oil and oil sands.

“Most of the oil in the world now is that heavy oil,” she says.

Earlier this year, the National Energy Board predicted that Canadian crude oil production will decrease in 2019 — for the first time since 2009.

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.