Film Drills Deep Into Gas Origins

West Virginia’s past is booming with relevance.

“Burning Springs” – an hour-long documentary about the history of the state’s oil and gas industry – will premiere at 8 p.m. Tuesday on West Virginia PBS.

Produced by Charleston-based MotionMasters – the company responsible for award-winning productions about Sen. Robert C. Byrd, the Rev. Leon Sullivan and the West Virginia State Capitol – the documentary delves deep into the origins of industries that have recently experienced a resurgence in West Virginia.

The name “Burning Springs” is a nod to the term early settlers of what was then western Virginia used to reference natural outflows of petroleum and natural gas found along creeks and rivers.

“We want people to know about West Virginia’s leading role in the (oil and gas) industry,” said MotionMasters CEO Diana Sole Walko. “It’s important to stake our claim in history.”

Walko, a Weirton native and self-proclaimed “student of West Virginia history,” is always looking for intriguing project ideas. Several year ago after reading books on the history of the industry, Walko wished to further investigate the authors’ research disputing claims that Pennsylvania is the birthplace of America’s oil and gas industry.

Before Col. Edwin L. Drake drilled a well in Titusville, Pa., in 1858, those including the Ruffner family discovered oil and gas while drilling for salt brine in the Kanawha Valley. As oil and gas ruined the salt, the resources were initially considered burdensome to salt men.

Still, decades before Drake’s well existed, those in the area of present-day West Virginia began producing oil and realizing its benefits.

“The salt industry, once thriving here in West Virginia, led to the development of the oil and gas industry,” Walko said.

After raising project funds and finding a cast of academics and historians, MotionMasters also needed to hire the right narrator and voice talents to match the desired documentary tone.

Glen Dale-native and country musician Lionel Cartwright had a “warm, compelling everyday-man sound” – a voice producers sought for narration.

“Thankfully, he said yes,” Walko said.

Using source documents, MotionMasters chose a team of voice talents to emote eyewitness accounts. Frank Wilson, head of The Linsly School’s fine arts department, became one of those talents. According to Walko, Wilson voices the account of an individual who watched the fire in the Burning Springs, W.Va. – located in Wirt County – from a nearby hilltop.

“It’s a pivotal moment in the documentary,” Walko said about the event, which was the first assault on an oil field in world history when Robert E. Lee ordered Confederate generals William “Grumble” Jones and John Imboden to conduct a raid during the Civil War. During the raid, they burned the oil field in Burning Springs.

“Burning Springs” is MotionMasters’ first production incorporating reenactments. Engaging and educating viewers through visual medium, Walko hopes the audience has a sense of pride about West Virginia’s role in the oil and gas industry.