Black Gold of El Dorado
It’s impossible to walk through El Dorado without experiencing the allure, the power of oil. Driving into town on US 167, you are welcomed by a message painted across the side of an oil tank. The downtown square, with almost half of the buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places, was built during the heyday of the oil rush in the 1920s.The Elm Street Bakery, with its creaky hardwood floors and stamped aluminum ceiling tiles is a throwback to the glory days, as are the polished marble hallways of the Union County Courthouse. The grocery stores are decorated with images of gushers, and a museum dedicated to the boom and its effects is located right outside of Smackover, just a few miles from the heart of El Dorado.
Some mornings, the smell of crude oil, sharp and sulfurous, still permeates the air of the town. While the ghosts of the oil boom sing out from the buildings and the streets of the towns in Union County, oil still reigns here. With the location of Murphy Oil’s corporate headquarters in town and the still prosperous Lion Oil refinery, running day and night, oil continues to have a significant impact on the area. However, the oil wells across the southern part of Arkansas began to dry up long ago. Rather than drawing oil and wealth from the ground around and beneath them, Murphy and Lion have instead become part of something larger, something much more intricate and fraught with troubles and issues innumerable. Today, these two South Arkansas oil companies have thrown their lot in with foreign oil, bringing some of the world home to El Dorado to help fuel the region and the world.
The difference between the two is amazing and telling of the variety in this wide field. Lion Oil is a single refinery, importing its oil from Venezuela through a sophisticated pipeline system and a terminal in Port Arthur, TX. Murphy is a worldwide petroleum company, extracting oil from places as close as the Gulf of Mexico and as far away as Indonesia and with infrastructure supporting a nation-wide chain of gas stations, and even a small chain of gas stations in Britain. The two companies, vastly different in scope and size, are both examples of the intricacies and complications of the international oil markets. Murphy, while not the same size as Exxon-Mobil or BP, certainly has substantial presence in the worldwide oil markets. With significant investments in oil fields from Brunei to Iraqi Kurdistan to Newfoundland, Murphy has made a name for itself as a company that is on the cutting edge of securing new fields and safely extracting crude oil from them. Murphy tends to work in concert with state-owned oil companies, such as Petronas in Malaysia and Canada Hibernia Holding Corporation in Canada.
Lion has taken a different route. Rather than expanding its reach around the world, the world comes to it. In southeastern Texas, Lion share a port terminal with several other oil companies that it uses as a first step to bring in oil from around the world. The oil is then pumped up a pipeline, hundreds of miles long, that eventually ends in Longview, Texas. From there, it is shipped through a private company’s pipeline to Magnolia, Arkansas, before being reintroduced to a Lion pipeline and sent on to the refinery in El Dorado. Once refined, the products are sold to outside buyers; Lion has no chain of gas stations to support, no additional infrastructure to pipe products to. For anyone with enough capital and the means to transport it, Lion is a buyers market.
The two companies, in scope, mission and operations, could not be more different. One is a truly global corporation, with the capability to extract resources from around the world, an infrastructure that can support a world-wide consumer chain. The other is small, purchasing only what can come to it and selling it to anyone who needs it for their own needs. Despite this, these two long-standing industries in South Arkansas both exemplify, in their own way, the complexities and possibilities of international business in a global marketplace. Next time you decide to get gas, stop and think about the series of events, the places, the people involved in getting this fuel to you. You might be surprised where it takes you along the way.
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