Paper No. 44-0
NUTTALL, Brandon C., Kentucky Geological Survey, 228 Mining and Mineral Resources Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0107,

The modern exploitation of petroleum in the Appalachian Basin had its beginnings with settlers using available resources and searching for salt brines in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that time, salt for food preservation and agriculture was far more important than petroleum. It was inevitable, however, that the search for brines would encounter some of the shallow petroleum reservoirs known today. The drilling and completion of the Drake well, Titusville, Pa., on August 27, 1859, was a pivotal and defining moment for the oil industry. But both Pennsylvania's and Kentucky's oil history begin before 1859. Even though it is not well known, Kentucky has a rich oil history that precedes the Drake well.

To put Kentucky into perspective, this history begins with Evans's 1755 map, "Middle British Colonies in America," which shows the occurrence of resources important to settlers: salt springs, coal, rapids, and gentle river courses. In pre-Drake Kentucky, wells supplied oil for lamps and medicine; cannel coal was distilled to lamp oil; gushers made worldwide news; and a geological survey took note of oil and gas springs. These events are related to others in Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and provide the foundation on which the modern petroleum industry was built.

Kentucky's oil industry grew steadily from the formative pre-Drake years to the discovery of the Big Sinking Field, Lee County, the state's only giant oil field, which has produced more than 100 million barrels of oil to date. Big Sinking was discovered in 1918, but the history of petroleum in the area begins in 1852 when explorers searching for coal to fuel local iron furnaces accidentally discovered oil. The development of the Big Sinking Field provided the financial base for Kentucky's largest private energy company, Ashland Oil.

North-Central Section (36th) and Southeastern Section (51st), GSA Joint Annual Meeting (April 35, 2002)
Session No. 44
Geology and Human History I: Geological and Regional Perspectives
Hyatt Regency Hotel: Patterson Ballroom D
8:00 AM-11:40 AM, Friday, April 5, 2002

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