Pawnee Royalty Company drilled the first oil well in Nebraska on May 29, 1940, in Richardson County. The state legislature had offered a $15,000 bonus.

Nebraska's 2012 oil production was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil, about 6,886 barrels per day, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Nebraska’s 2012 oil production was more than 2.51 million barrels of oil, about 6,886 barrels per day, according to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

May-29-Nebraska-well-AOGHS

Roadside historical marker on Nebraska Hwy. 4, west of Falls City.

After more than a half century of dry holes, in 1940 Nebraska’s first commercial oil well is completed in the far southeastern corner of the state.

The Pawnee Royalty Company makes the discovery just west of Falls City in Richardson County.

“The first publicized report of oil in Nebraska had been an 1883 newspaper account of a ‘vein of petroleum’ discovered in the same county,” explains a Nebraska historical marker.

“Over the next 57 years the search for oil consumed thousands of dollars, and hundreds of wells were drilled throughout Nebraska,” adds the marker placed by the Nebraska Petroleum Council.

“Traces of oil were reported at various locations across the state, but Nebraska did not have a producing well until 1940,” adds the marker.

Eager to become an oil-producing state, the Nebraska legislature had offered a $15,000 bonus for the first oil well in Nebraska to produce 50 barrels daily for 60 consecutive days.

In 1939 and 1940 the Pawnee Royalty Company had two encouraging but unsuccessful drillings near Falls City. A third well, Bucholz No. 1, was begun near the marker on April 22, 1940. On May 29 the well began producing and averaged 169-1/2 barrels daily for the first 60 days.

The discovery easily qualified for the Nebraska Legislature’s $15,000 bonus. Richardson County enjoyed an oil boom for three years.

Interestingly, Bucholz No. 1 was located just five miles east of the “vein of petroleum” reported in 1883.

Western Nebraska Oil

Modern Nebraska petroleum production comes from the southwestern panhandle – where a  1949 discovery well produced 225 barrels of oil a day from a depth of 4,429 feet.

This oil discovery ended 60 years of unsuccessful searching in western Nebraska, according to another roadside historical marker.

Marathon Oil completed the well, the Mary Egging No. 1, five miles southeast of Gurley  in Cheyenne County.

The marker, on U.S. 385 between Sidney and Gurley, reports that interest for oil in western Nebraska first occurred in 1889, near Crawford, in the northwest corner of the Panhandle.

Prior to 1950, Nebraska has no office to report production for record keeping. Oil production from 1939 to 1949 is estimated by the Geological Survey to have been almost six million  barrels.

Prior to 1950, Nebraska has no office to report production for record keeping. Oil production from 1939 to 1949 is estimated by the Geological Survey to have been almost six million barrels.

“The first recorded drilling operation there took place in 1903 near Chadron, also in the northern part of the Panhandle,” the marker explains.

“In 1917, the first exploratory well to drill in the southwest Panhandle, near Harrisburg, failed,” it adds. “Oil searchers sunk many other dry test wells in western Nebraska until success came in 1949.”

By 1966, wells in the western Nebraska oil wells produced more than 216 million barrels of oil.

“The pioneer efforts in this area have resulted in a major contribution to the economy of the state,” concludes the Nebraska State Historical Society.

New technologies, including horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, today bring renewed activity to the state. Independent oil and natural gas companies are testing the potential of the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Wyoming – and southwestern Nebraska.

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