Oil & Gas History of West Virginia

Much like the discussions over which came first the chicken or the egg, many wonder about the origins of the oil and gas industry. As you learn more about the history of oil and gas, you may ask: Was the first oil well drilled in West Virginia or in Pennsylvania? In the early 1800s, West Virginia saltmakers frequently hit oil or gas in their drilling. These byproducts were considered a nuisance. In fact, so much oil was diverted to the Kanawha River by salt manufacturers that it was known as "Old Greasy" to boatmen. Since the oil and gas industry began as an outgrowth of the salt industry, the real question becomes: When and where was the first oil well drilled? Once we determine when and where the first oil well was drilled, then we mark the beginning of the oil and gas industry.

As you gain more information about the processes and factors that led to the drilling of oil and gas, you’ll find it is a difficult to pinpoint an exact date and place. You might ask, who cares? But consider this: What began as a nuisance to the salt mining industry, evolved into one the most important and influential industries in the world. From these byproducts known as oil and gas, an industry grew that continues to affect our history, politics, society and economy. The oil and gas industry has shaped the way we live today and will continue to significantly impact our future. So who drilled the first oil well, YOU BE THE JUDGE… We would love to hear your opinion, so feel free to send us an emailThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Start your research by visiting the following sites to get the entire picture:

This exciting book challenges Pennsylvania's long-standing claim as the birthplace of the oil industry. It chronicles the discovery of oil and gas and the development of the oil and gas industry in West Virginia and Southeastern Ohio from the mid-Eighteenth Century. It delves into the powerful political influence that the industry leaders had on the creation of the state of West Virginia in the midst of the turmoil of the Civil War. It shows the importance of the Parkersburg area and West Virginia in the development of the world's most powerful and significant industries.

The industry revolutionized modern history - from the kerosene light to modern plastics (for which the mid-Ohio valley is now famous). The amount of money involved is almost beyond comprehension when oil-related transactions of the 1800's are translated into today's dollar equivalents. The book points out the influence of the area and its people on some of the most powerful companies in the world, including Standard Oil and EXXON, Marathon, Pure Oil, Cabot, Pennzoil, and Union Carbide, to name a few. It is fully illustrated with over 270 pictures and maps - many never before published - and contains much original historical material with insightful analysis covering a range of political, social and economics events from the early 1800's to the present.

Original material from newspapers, deeds and personal diaries provide a vivid portrait of the early days of the area. This is a particularly important oilfield and local West Virginia history reference work containing many carefully researched facts which revise long accepted views of historical, political, social and economic events. Much of this new information has national implications.

Excerpt: As John Wesley Owen wrote in 1975 in his massive volume "Trek of the Oil Finders"..."the inception of the modern petroleum industry can be fairly said to have occurred at Oil Creek, near Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania..." Owen also states that "some 5000 years of experience and tradition elsewhere had anticipated the event." Oil seeps were used in ancient times and production of oil took place in a number of countries long before Drake. Several oil wells were brought in at about the time of Drake's well in the United States, such as in Canada and Europe. Some of them became oil centers in their own right. However, the boom and industrial advance that began near Titusville on August 27, 1859, (Drake Day) gathered momentum so quickly and enlarged so greatly that a veritable industrial explosion took place. As Owen put it, "the oilmen were here. They were in oil country, and the time had come." Parke Dickey in his 1959 great paper "The First Oil Well" doesn't dispute other claims to be the first well (that isn't the point). He felt that "no one is likely to question the fact that it was the Drake Well at Titusville which started the industry on its spectacular career." The other centers boomed as well.

Oil & Gas History in WV

Much like the discussions over which came first the chicken or the egg, many wonder about the origins of the oil and gas industry. As you learn more about the history of oil and gas, you may ask...

Oil and Gas History

Afraid of Fracking?

New Book by Greg Kozera

The public has a lot of fear of hydraulic fracturing due to all of the misinformation they hear about it. We tend to fear what we don’t understand. 

Read More


In the HBO movie “Gasland,” New York City filmmaker Josh Fox tried to scare people into thinking that natural gas development and hydraulic fracturing are new, unregulated and dangerous.

It made one Pennsylvania mom living atop the Marcellus Shale wonder what she was getting into.

Watch the movie


There's plenty of research demonstrating the economic impact of the natural gas industry and Marcellus Shale development.

Here are some of the better articles

Oil & Gas Glossary

Understanding the terminology aids in understanding the industry.


Online Resources

The internet is flush with articles about the oil and gas industry.

We've culled some of the better ones for your perusal.

Student Classroom Activities

You're never too young to learn about how the oil and gas industry operates.

We've identified some outstanding resources for teachers to use in the classroom.


Videos provide a wonderful way to visualize a number of things relating to the oil and gas industry. 

Enjoy! And if you know of other videos we should include in our library, be sure to let us know!

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Corky Demarco
Executive Director

PO Box 3231 | Charleston WV 25332 | Phone: 304.343.1609 Fax: 304.343.5610 | Toll Free: 866.343.1609 demarco@wvonga.com