Texas Company Oil Refinery

The Texas Company Oil Refinery is an abandoned oil refinery once owned by Oleum, Great Southern, Texas Company, and Ashland Oil & Refining in Lee County, Kentucky.

The extraction of oil in Appalachia has a storied history dating back to the early 1800s when drillers were primarily engaged in the search for salt brines. 3 These brines were utilized for various purposes, including food preservation and agriculture. Among the earliest salt wells to be drilled in the region were those in the Kanawha River valley by David and Joseph Ruffner in 1806, with the first 47-foot deep well producing salt on January 15, 1808.

However, in the process of drilling for salt, drillers often discovered oil seeps. 3 Initially, this oil was sold for medicinal purposes, and salesmen traveled in gaudy wagons to market and sell the product. It was not until 1848 that Abraham Gesner devised a method to distill kerosene from petroleum, leading to the widespread use of this versatile fuel in lamps and other applications. Following this breakthrough, Samuel M. Kier developed an odorless fuel and lamp, furthering the commercialization of oil extraction in the region.

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 An oil refinery was constructed by the Oleum Refining Company in Pryse, which was then acquired by the Great Southern Refining Company in 1922 and then by the Texas Company in 1926. 3 4 6 8 9 (Pryse was named for pioneer David Pryse who had immigrated from Wales to Lee County. 1 2 The railroad station along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad was known as Texola or Texola Station. 4) The refinery grew to a 1,600-barrel capacity with the capability of producing 100,000 gallons of gasoline, kerosene, asphalt, and fuel oils daily. 5 6 8

The Texas Company was established in April 1902 by oilman Joseph S. Cullinan and New York investor Arnold Schlaet and rapidly expanded through the development of the Sour Lake and Humble oilfields near Houston in 1903 and 1905. 5 After World War I, the firm developed and patented the Holmes-Manley refinery process, the first continuous process for refining crude oil, significantly increasing gasoline yield from each barrel.

By 1931, eastern Kentucky’s crude oil flowed primarily to three refineries: Ashland Oil & Refining Company’s Leach (Catlettsburg) refinery, Tri-State’s Kenova, West Virginia refinery, and Texas Company’s Pryse refinery. 8 The first two were dependent on Cumberland Pipe Line Company for a main artery for its crude oil supply. The line had been started in 1902 by Standard Oil but by the 1930s, it was aging and becoming less profitable.

Ashland Oil & Refining Company expanded its refining capacity by 20% when it acquired the Texas Company’s refinery in Pryse, 412 wells, and 75 miles of pipeline from the Cumberland Pipe Line Company in March 1945. 6 7 8 It complimented Ashland’s 1,600 producing wells and 17,500 barrel refinery.

Ashland had not intended to operate the Pryse refinery because of its aging facility and high costs, making profits marginal. 8 But because of the experience of Ashland, it decreased costs and increased throughput, allowing it to make a considerable profit. Ultimately, it was decided to close the refinery at Pryse and consolidate operations at Leach in 1947. 4 8



  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.
  4. Elbon, David C. “Pryse, Kentucky.” Kentucky Atlas & Gazetter.
  5. Kemp, L.W. and Cherie Voris. “Texaco.” Texas State Historical Association, 24 May 2021.
  6. McWain, Donald. “Odd Lots.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 18 Mar. 1945, p. 6.
  7. “Ashland Company Buys Oil Company Interests.” Lexington Herald, 21 May 1945, p. 10.
  8. Massie, Joseph L., editor. “Economies of Obsolesce Reluctant Enlargement.” Blazer and Ashland Oil: A Study in Management, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 1960, pp. 63–80.
  9. Nuttall, Brandon C. “Oil and Gas History of Kentucky: 1900 to Present.” Kentucky Oil History.

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