Sinclair Refinery, Wellsville NY

Wellsville Refinery front.jpg
Wellsville Refinery back.jpg

Dublin Core


Sinclair Refinery, Wellsville NY


Town along the Genesee River has experienced the rise and fall of fortunes associated with extractive industries: initially lumber and tanning (using bark from hemlock trees), then the petroleum industry. In 1879 oil was discovered near Wellsville--whose naming antedated the petroleum strike--and in 1901 a refinery was constructed to process barrels from the Allegany field. Sinclair Oil & Refining Corporation, formed in 1916, purchased the Wellsville refinery in 1927 and for years was the major producer of refined products in this area. The company had a national profile via its shrewd marketing, notably a dinosaur mascot introduced at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933. A catastrophic fire in 1938 severely damaged the Wellsville plant; another in 1958 caused its closing. In 1969 Sinclair was purchased by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO).

The afterlife of Wellsville's 100-acre refinery site has been problematic. Production of lubricating oils and grease, fuel oil, naptha, gasoline, lighter fluid, and paraffin led to groundwater contamination; a 10-acre waste dump sited alongside the Genesee River (with 230,000 cubic yards of hazardous chemicals) leached into surface water. In 1983 it was declared a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, leading to mitigation efforts at the waste dump, "rechannelization" of the Genesee, and relocating Wellsville's drinking water intake upstream from the Sinclair refinery. Effects upon fish, waterfowl, and mammals have been significant and likely continue. Given the somewhat bucolic appearance of this postcard photo, the refinery's history serves as a cautionary tale.

Source consulted: US Fish and Wildlife Service, "Preassessment Screen and Determination for the Sinclair Refinery Superfund Site in Allegany County, New York” (May 2015).


Tichenor Bros. Incorporated




Cooper, Ken


Courtesy of Ken Cooper


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