Kansas Rocks, Minerals, and Petroleum Resources

Kansas residents have long depended on the state's rocks, minerals, and petroleum resources. Native Americans were the first "miners" in Kansas, excavating clay for pottery and chert (flint) for points and tools. Early Euro-American settlers and soldiers in Army forts used sand and gravel deposits for mortar and local stone for building on the treeless prairie. Salt marshes were utilized for early salt production (underground mining began in 1888). Gypsum was mined locally and used for plaster in the 1860's.

color photo of blue-grey chert in limestone outcrop

Blue-gray chert in limestone, Riley County.

Coal was first mined near Fort Leavenworth shortly after it was established in 1827. To meet the demands of the railroads, coal mines were opened in the 1870's in southeastern Kansas; later this area would become the most prolific coal-producing region in Kansas. The 1870 discovery of zinc ore in southeastern Kansas marked the beginning of a century of lead and zinc mining in the Kansas part of the Tri-State mining district (southeastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, and northeastern Oklahoma), one of the major lead and zinc mining areas in the world.

Click here to find out more about coal and coal mining or lead and zinc mining.

The first productive oil well was drilled in northeastern Kansas in 1860. After the Civil War, drilling continued in eastern Kansas. Some of these wells encountered natural gas, which the drillers considered a nuisance. However, in the 1890's, natural gas became a popular source of cheap energy for industrial uses such as brick plants, zinc smelters, and cement plants, particularly in the southeastern part of the state.

In 1915, with the discovery of the El Dorado field near Wichita, Kansas became known as a significant oil-producing state. The El Dorado field was important because of its size, long production history, and because it was one of the first times science was used in the search for oil (to locate underground structures that trapped oil in the subsurface, then State Geologist Erasmus Haworth and his son carefully mapped the surface rocks). In 1922, natural gas was discovered in southwestern Kansas, but it was not until the 1930's that construction of major pipelines encouraged development of the Hugoton field, now the largest natural gas field in North America and the second largest in the world.

Today, the economic value of natural gas and petroleum far exceeds all other natural resources produced in the state. Natural gas and petroleum remain the most important energy resources in Kansas, accounting for nearly all primary energy produced in the state. Of the U.S. states, Kansas is ranked eighth in natural gas production and ninth in oil production. Kansas is also the leading U.S. producer of helium, a product of natural gas, mostly from the Hugoton field.

Industrial minerals that are produced in Kansas include limestone (cement, crushed rock, and building stone), sand and gravel, clay and shale, gypsum, and salt. Lead and zinc mining ceased in 1970, and only one small coal mine still operates in eastern Kansas.

Limestone production is concentrated mostly in the eastern one-third of the state where Permian and Pennsylvanian rocks crop out. Major uses of crushed stone include construction applications and cement production.

Sand and gravel operations are the most common and widespread of the natural resource facilities in the state. Most of the over 400 dredges and pits are located along the state's major river systems, the Kansas River in northeastern Kansas and the Arkansas River in central and western Kansas.

Clay and shale from central Kansas (Cretaceous) and eastern Kansas (Pennsylvanian) are used in the ceramic industry. Clay and shale is mined in open pits and used to produce a variety of ceramic products including brick, tile, and lightweight aggregate (also known as expanded shale).

Gypsum is used as a cement additive and to produce gypsum wallboard (sheetrock) and a variety of plasters. Gypsum is produced form open pits and underground mines. A facility in south-central Kansas is one of the larger mines and plants in the U.S.

Thick salt deposits in central Kansas are mined with underground and solution mining. The underground operations produce salt that contains impurities (shale and anhydrite) that restricts its use to applications such as road de-icing. Solution-mined salt, produced by dissolving the salt with water and then evaporating the brine, is suitable for table salt and other uses requiring purity.

color photo of underground salt mine

Underground salt mine, Reno County.

Additional Information

Kansas Aggregate Producers Association
Kansas Independent Oil and Gas Association (KIOGA)
Salt Institute


Buchanan, Rex C., and McCauley, James R., 1987, Roadside Kansas--A Traveler's Guide to Its Geology and Landmarks: Lawrence, Kansas, University Press of Kansas, 365 p.

Carr, T. R., and White, S. W., 2000, 2000 Kansas energy report: Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2000-69, 34 p.

Grisafe, D. A., 1999, Primer of industrial minerals for Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey, Educational Series 13, 28 p.

Kansas Geological Survey, 2001, Industrial minerals in Kansas: http://magellan.kgs.ku.edu/Minerals/industrial.html.

Schoewe, W. H., 1958, The geography of Kansas, Part IV, economic geography: mineral resources: Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, v. 61, no. 4, p. 359-470.

Tolsted, Laura L., and Swineford, Ada, revised by Buchanan, Rex C., 1986, Kansas Rocks and Minerals: Kansas Geological Survey, Educational Series 2, 60 p.

Text by Liz Brosius, Rex Buchanan, and Bob Sawin, Kansas Geological Survey; photographs by John Charlton, Kansas Geological Survey.

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