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Ohio was once oil king, but production peaked in 1896

An oil boom swept across the Ohio River when John Newton and Mophet Dye struck oil in 1860 in Macksburg, just north of Marietta.

Blacksmith William Jeffrey made a similar hit in Mecca Township, northeast of Warren.

Hundreds of wooden derricks soon poked the Ohio skyline as petroleum speculators and businessmen drilled deep into the ground searching for black gold.

More wells brought more oil. Crude oil production climbed year after year, especially after major oil reserves were found in northwest Ohio in the 1880s.

Between 1895 and 1903, Ohio was the leading producer of crude oil in the country.

But Ohio's reign as oil king was short-lived.

Production could not keep up with demand. Plus, major oil fields found in Texas and Oklahoma would quickly surpass Ohio's.

Ohio's petroleum industry did not know it at the time, but it's obvious now: Ohio's oil production peaked in 1896. That year Ohio's wells generated 23.9 million barrels of oil.

After that year, oil production gradually decreased.

"As you look at the numbers, you see occasional new discoveries or lots of activity that generated more production, but it's never come close to that 23 million in 1896," said Mike McCormac, a geologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' division of mineral resources management.

Drillers treated Ohio's landscape like a pincushion. Over the years they have sunk more than 271,000 wells across the state. Only Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have more.

Last year, Ohio's 62,852 active wells produced 5.7 million barrels of oil. That's barely one-quarter of the oil the United States consumes in one day.

- John Kuehner Information for this article came from the Ohio Historical Society, the Washington County Historical Society and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources division of mineral resources management.

© 2005 The Plain Dealer
© 2005 All Rights Reserved.

Editorial Notes: The Cleveland Plain Dealer is doing an exemplary job of explaining energy issues to the public, and doing it with a local slant. (If there's one thing we know about a low-energy future, it's that it will be local.) Previous stories in their series "Crude Awakening" are available through the series archive. Many of these articles in the series have been archived on Energy Bulletin. -BA

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