Empire Refineries Inc. Plant

Location Class:
Year Built: 1909 | Year Abandoned: 1982
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: Michael SchwarzEmily Cowan

Okmulgee in the early 1900s was a hub for the oil industry. In 1909 the Empire Refineries Inc. was a large operation in Okmulgee just along the Okmulgee River and conveniently next to the S.F.R.R tracks. The refinery was a big supplier of jobs in town with a hundred employees or more at any given time. The operation was partly responsible for keeping Okmulgee as a growing boomtown rather than one that hit a peak and then had the population diminish.

The Empire Refinery Inc. lasted on the grounds until around the 1950s, it then became the Gold Kist Peanut Growers Plant. This is what a lot of the locals know it to be today “the old peanut plant”. The Peanut Plant lasted nearly thirty years creating a thriving peanut market for Okmulgee and was one of a handful of Gold Kist plants in Oklahoma and one of a hundred plus within the United States. The plant closed in 1982 after the grounds were discovered to have leftover toxins from its oil refinery days.

It was in 1997 after sitting vacant for almost twenty years that the Phillips Petroleum Company agreed to cleanse the property of its harmful chemicals. The first phase was tackled with $400,000 which included securing the property, 24-hour surveillance and barricades. The second phase cost around $200,000 and included drilling water wells and installing monitors to test for airborne asbestos particles, both methods yielded no signs of any airborne hazards. Then barrels of hazardous waste that hadn’t been properly disposed of and left on the property was hauled off to a waste site. The third phase of the cleanup operation was the removal of asbestos which had been a popular insulation material in past years to keep the crude hot. By the time 98% of the buildings were demolished the third phase had burned a sizeable hole in the pockets of those in charge of the cleanup, a $4 million hole to be exact. Only two buildings remain on the site as of 2020, below is a video of the grounds in 1991:

Article by AOK Photojournalist Emily Cowan

Gallery Below


“20 Mar 1968, 1 – The Daily Oklahoman at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/452119483/?terms=kist%2Bpeanut%2Bplant%2Bokmulgee.

“23 Dec 1928, 6 – Sunday Times Democrat at Newspapers.com.” Newspapers.com, www.newspapers.com/image/665441683/?terms=empire%20refineries%20inc%20okmulgee&match=1.

“Environmental Cleanup to Resume at Former Refinery Site in Stephens County.” Oklahoman.com, 22 July 2018, oklahoman.com/article/5602018/comanche-citizens-still-skeptical-as-work-is-set-to-resume-at-former-refinery.

YAEGER, JEAN. “Abandoned Refinery Gets a Cleaning.” Tulsa World, 27 Feb. 2019, tulsaworld.com/archive/abandoned-refinery-gets-a-cleaning/article_1aefb44d-45be-59fe-a2c7-b86a3fa64e79.html.

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