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Although Tennessee, especially the Upper Cumberland region, was an early producer of petroleum, it has never been a major player nationally in oil and gas, with a total cumulative production for the state at just 20.6 million barrels. State production reached an all-time high of one million barrels statewide in 1982, but by 2005, production had dropped to less than a third of this peak. Drilling for and extracting petroleum has re-emerged as oil prices have increased, and production has grown in the region.
Rock and mineral resources that have seen commercial production in the area include dimension stone, crushed stone, sand, clay, and sphalerite. In Cumberland County, colorful, banded sandstone, known commercially as “Crab Orchard stone,” has achieved regional fame as a building stone. Crushed stone, primarily limestone for building and agricultural purposes, is mined in many localities and used locally as well as exported from our region. A number of sand quarries are in operation in Putnam and Cumberland counties. Clay has been used from time to time in local pottery manufacture. Sphalerite, the primary ore for zinc metal, was mined in several major mines in Smith County during the 1970s-80s. They were long abandoned due to low zinc prices worldwide. However, some mining may return as prices rise.
In summary, although the region continues to be a producer of geologic resources, the contributions of these natural resources to the regional economy today is generally declining, and it seems doubtful that the traditional extractive resource industries will ever again form a major part of the region’s economic and employment picture.