Murphy Oil Corporation

Murphy Oil Corporation developed from family timberlands in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana that were owned by Charles H. Murphy Sr. Officially formed in 1950 by the children of Murphy, the Murphy Oil Corporation now operates oil production facilities and processing plants across the world. The company was based in El Dorado (Union County) until 2020, when it was announced that Murphy Oil was consolidating its offices in Houston, Texas, following the collapse of oil prices that year.

When oil was discovered in the Caddo Field north of Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1907, Charles Murphy Sr., the owner of timber and banking interests in Union County, decided that his timber company should purchase land on a scattered non-contiguous pattern to provide more exposure to any oil development. When the large Smackover Field in Ouachita and Union counties was discovered in 1922, Murphy had oil royalty interests in it. He and joint operators owned about 100,000 acres in the Union County area. In 1936, Phillips Petroleum company discovered a small oil field at Snow Hill in Ouachita County, but the area’s extent was limited. Murphy preferred to spread drilling and producing risks. He did not have an extensive operating company but rather owned interests in different operations.

In 1937, an abandoned Phillips Petroleum well in western Union County, where some Murphy acreage was located, was re-entered by the Lion Oil Refining Company, which discovered deeper multiple zones between 5,000 and 8,000 feet below the surface in the Shuler Field. This included the Smackover limestone, which led to development of fields in the Smackover limestone throughout south Arkansas. Then, in 1944, Murphy land was included in the development of Louisiana’s Delhi Field, a major oil producer. This was the largest field on extensive acreage for Murphy.

In 1946, the four children of Charles Murphy Sr. pooled their land and oil interests to form C. H. Murphy & Co. In 1950, C. H. Murphy & Co. was incorporated as Murphy Corporation, headed by Charles Murphy Jr., and in 1964, it became Murphy Oil Corporation. From this stable beginning, the Murphy Corporation continued operation in the oil and gas business. In 1951, the company began production in the large East Poplar Field in Montana and began moving on to other areas. Four years later, the company acquired Marine Oil Company, which operated in the Smackover Field and other fields in south Arkansas and of which Charles Murphy Sr. had been a joint owner.

In 1956, Murphy Oil became a public company by sale of stock on the American Stock Exchange. This allowed acquisition of Superior Refinery, Spur Oil Company, and Ingram Oil and Refining Company. Subsequently, Murphy Oil acquired Amurex Oil Company, which was to be combined with the Murphy Oil Company LTD in Canada.

In 1957, Murphy and other operators joined in exploration and developed oil production in Venezuela, their first foreign development. The company established production in Iran in 1966, the North Sea in 1969, Libya in 1969, and Spain in 1979. Murphy Oil also acquired an interest in the massive Syncrude Project in Alberta, Canada. Additional production was established in Ecuador in 1987 and the Gulf of Mexico in 1988.

One remarkable innovation resulted from Murphy Oil’s involvement with the Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company (ODECO), which constructed a barge, dubbed Mr. Charlie, that became the prototype for other submersible drilling barges and some semi-submersible barges, the latter being barges that can either float or be submerged to the sea floor. This design replaced the costly driving of piles and then decking for drilling rig usage. This was a great development in increasing the mobility of drilling equipment in shallow waters of up to sixty-five feet deep and was used offshore in Louisiana.

Other operations to support oil production were the Butte Pipeline Company in Montana, established by Murphy Oil and other producers for the transportation of crude, and the River States Oil Company in Wisconsin, a company purchased by Murphy Oil to transport petroleum products. Refining operations included the Lake Superior Refining Company in Superior, Wisconsin; the Ingram Refinery in Meraux, Louisiana; and the Milford Haven in Wales, United Kingdom.

A valued portion of Murphy Oil’s interests is the Deltic Farm and Timber Company, which was spun off from Murphy Oil Corporation in 1996 to operate as Deltic Timber Corporation. The farm portion was several thousand acres worked by many individuals. Records of expenses, equipment, and yields indicate profitable operations. The timber interests were principally on land in Louisiana and Arkansas. These lands provided for timber sales and supported processing plants in Ola (Yell County) and Waldo (Columbia County). Deltic Timber also owns several thousand acres in western Pulaski County.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina damaged a Murphy refinery at Meraux, Louisiana, resulting in the release of millions of gallons of oil that flowed into coastal homes and towns. A class action lawsuit brought by residents resulted in the company proposing a $330 million settlement. In 2011, Murphy Oil announced its sale of the refinery and related assets to Valero Energy Corp.

The Murphy Oil USA Inc. subsidiary has an agreement with Walmart Inc. to operate gasoline stations at Walmart Inc. stores. In 2013, the company spun off the Murphy USA subsidiary into an independent retail company that is traded separately from Murphy Oil Corp., which focuses on exploration and production rather than retail sales.

In January 2007, the company announced a plan to set aside $50 million for scholarships for every student in the El Dorado school system. Called the El Dorado Promise, the program offers the maximum resident tuition of an Arkansas university payable to state public universities or community colleges, as well as accredited private or out-of-state universities, for students who maintain a 2.0 grade point average. The amount paid out is determined by the student’s length of residency at graduation. Despite the 2020 announcement that the company was leaving El Dorado, Murphy Oil leaders pledged to continue supporting the scholarship program.

For additional information:
Bowden, Bill. “Murphy Exit Keenly Felt.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 8, 2020, pp. 1A, 6A.

Murphy Oil Corporation. (accessed August 18, 2023).

Murphy Oil Corporation: A Story of Innovation. El Dorado, AR: Murphy Oil Corporation, 1994.

John G. Ragsdale
Little Rock, Arkansas


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