At industry conferences around the world executives from energy companies are acknowledging that the industry has a social image problem, one that needs to be altered. Studies back that up too (as detailed in “As I See It”). So, as Don Draper was prone to say in “Mad Men,” “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

And that’s what oil companies have begun to do. Many of us have seen the television ads depicting hard-working industry workers using eye-catching machines and technologies to provide the energy that fuels the world—the focus is on hope, on a good job and efforts for the greater good.

But like many efforts at changing hearts and minds, such work begins at the ground floor. Or, in the case of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS), the fourth floor. The HMNS recently unveiled its newly redesigned Wiess Energy Hall, an immersive, interactive, comprehensive and technically remarkable display of the full scope of the energy industry. In recent years similar projects have been completed at the ultra-modern Norwegian Petroleum Museum and the Aberdeen Maritime Museum—public exhibits that show the good that the energy industry contributes to the world.

The HMNS exhibit covers everything from the creation of hydrocarbon-producing reservoirs to hydraulic fracturing, and just about everything in between, including renewable energy, where the display features prominently in the center of the exhibit and not as an afterthought amid the confl uence of traditional hydrocarbon sectors.

The whole experience is educational, informational and, perhaps most importantly, it’s fun. A jarring ride in the EXF 3000 simulation takes visitors down a horizontal wellbore where they’re “shrunk” down to the size of a grain of sand and nestled into a fracture with proppants, only to be pumped out, resized and “flown” back to the museum. It’s a literal crash course in hydraulic fracturing and, most of all, it leaves them with a good feeling. There’s even a convincingly realistic display of a 21st century offshore drilling rig.

“We want to show you anything and everything you ever wanted to know about energy,” said Paul Bernhard, director of exhibit content for the Wiess Energy Hall. “Energy is essential and a constant part of our daily lives, so much so that people take it for granted. We want to show that the energy itself is valuable, but also what’s valuable is the work that energy does and the things that energy produces.”

Earning a better public perception will take effort and time for the global energy industry—embracing renewable energies has been a welcome change in the court of public opinion. Outreach efforts like these museums could very well play such a role.

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