Although Nebraska would not produce any commercial amounts of oil until 1940, the Omaha Oil & Refining Company organized there two decades earlier – and built a refinery.
The company, which began in 1918 with $500,000 in capital stock, constructed its refinery with a capacity of 1,000 barrels of oil a day. Ten sales outlets were established in Omaha to distribute Omaha Oil & Refining retail products, “to carry on a business as marketers and jobbers of gasoline, kerosene, lubricating and burning oils.”
By 1919, Omaha Oil & Refining was exploring for oil in Texas, acquiring leases in Archer County. Little came from plans to drill wells to supply oil to the Omaha refinery. Within two years, the company moved its exploration efforts to northeastern Wyoming, drilling in the newly discovered Osage oilfield.
The town of Osage had been built along a single street next to a refinery in the middle an oilfield where many wells produced oil from just 300 feet deep. “The discovery of the Osage field in 1919 resulted from continual oil prospecting along the west flank of the Black Hills,” notes the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
However, drilling exploratory wells at Osage and other promising Wyoming fields often ended as a costly failure. Drilling technologies were still evolving – and competition was fierce, especially for leases next to proven production. Near Casper, even the Buffalo Bill Shoshone Oil Company struggled, despite its world-famous owner.
Omaha Oil & Refining also struggled. When the company’s refinery failed to operate at a profit, United States Investor adjudged further stock purchases, “to be of a highly speculative character, with their future difficult to forecast, and as such, we cannot recommend a purchase of the securities.”
After the refinery failed, E.T. Williams Oil Company in Casper purchased it in August 1922. After three months of renovation, the company reopened the refinery to process 1,000 barrels a day of 70 cents per barrel oil from Wyoming’s Salt Creek oilfield, one of the first Wyoming oil wells.
The Texas Company (the future Texaco) and E.T. Williams Oil formed the Central Pipe Line Company in 1923 with plans to ship oil by railroad tank cars from Salt Creek to the Omaha refinery.
In 1925 the Oil Trade Journal noted, “Report has it that the E.T. Williams Oil Company, in the Salt Creek field, has been purchased by the Texas Company. It is also understood that the Texas Company holds a contract which practically gives it an option on the Central Pipe Line Company.”
Although the Texas Company thrived, Omaha Oil & Refining, E.T. Williams Oil, and Central Pipe Line disappeared. The first Nebraska oil well arrived in 1940 – after the state legislature offered a $15,000 exploration bonus. Nebraska today has no refineries.
The stories of exploration and production companies joining petroleum booms (and avoiding busts) can be found updated in Is my Old Oil Stock worth Anything? The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Please support this AOGHS.ORG energy education website. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.