Texas Company Oil Refinery

The extraction of oil in Appalachia began with drillers in the early 1800s who were searching for salt brines, which were used for food preservation and agriculture. 3 Some of the earliest salt wells were drilled in the Kanawha River valley by David and Joseph Ruffner in 1806, with the first 47-foot deep well flowing on January 15, 1808. The search for salt often resulted in oil, which was then sold for medicinal purposes who were sold by salesmen that traveled in gaudy wagons. It was not until 1848 that Abraham Gesner devised a method to distill kerosene from petroleum and after witnessing the accidental burning of a canal, Samuel M. Kier developed a lamp and odorless fuel. 3

The Big Sinking Field in Estill and Lee counties was discovered in 1918 and grew to produce over 120 million barrels over its lifetime. 3 The Texas Company constructed a refinery in Pryse near Irvine in 1920. The town, also known as Texola, was named for pioneer David Pryse who had immigrated from Wales to Lee County. 1 2 The refinery was in operation until 1945.

Further Reading


  1. Rose, Bobby. “Pryse.” USGenWeb.
  2. Rennick, Robert M. “Pryse.” Kentucky Place Names. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984. 245. Print.
  3. Nuttall, Brandon C., and Donald C. Haney. Historic Oil Fields of Eastern Kentucky and Big Andy Ridge. Kentucky Society for Professional Geologists, 2001, pp. 6–8.

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