Oil and Gas History Summary

Contact: Brandon Nuttall


Graph of Kentucky historic oil and gas production
Kentucky's historic oil and gas production. Download comma-delimited text file of data used to make this graph.

Kentucky's oil and gas industry began in the early 19th century with pioneers searching for salt brines for use in tanning, food preservation, and livestock agriculture. In 1818, Martin Beatty was searching for brine in what is now the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in southeastern Kentucky. This shallow well initially produced up to 100 barrels per day. Between 1818 and the Civil War, few oil wells were drilled, but they were often spectacular. The "Old American well," drilled near Burkesville, Cumberland County, produced more than 50,000 barrels from its discovery in 1829 until about 1860. The end of the Civil War began the era of exploration for oil and gas. The first commercial gas wells in Kentucky were drilled between 1863 and 1865 in Meade County. The gas was used as fuel to evaporate brines and was later delivered by pipeline to Louisville for lighting and domestic heat. Historic production data are sparse. The record for statewide oil production starts in 1883. Western Kentucky natural gas production data are available from 1933 to 1949. Statewide natural gas data are available beginning 1950. These data indicate Kentucky's total historic oil and gas production exceeds 9.85 quadrillion Btu (765 million barrels of oil and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas). Two of Kentucky's potential energy resources have largely been ignored because of a lack of information. Preliminary data indicate natural gas is present in coal beds (coalbed methane) in both of the state's coal regions. A small pilot project is currently producing coalbed methane in eastern Kentucky. Natural asphalt, known as tar sand, was mined early in the 20th century for road paving material. The tar sand was successfully produced in the late 1970's and early 1980's when the price of oil was sufficiently high to make this resource economical.

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© 2005 Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky
Created 8-Jul-2002