History of Arabian Oil

Text: Victor Lebedev


The bowels of the Arabian Peninsula are an inexhaustible oil storehouse. Only in Saudi Arabia, its reserves are estimated at 264 billion barrels. However, the search for the main energy raw materials of the 20th century did not begin here. They were concentrated near the region and gradually approached desert Arabia, which at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was poorly known to foreigners and not even mastered by the locals themselves. The Saudis did not have the technical capabilities to study their bowels and were forced to seek favors not from nature and its hidden resources, but from the camel pens of careless neighbors and the meager grazing areas of weak tribes who did not have sufficient strength to protect their flocks.

Baron Julius von Reiter, who founded the world-famous news agency and gave him his name, was a pioneer in oil exploration in the Middle East. Baron is out of luck! Having received a concession for exploration and exploitation of minerals in the last quarter of the century before last from the Persian Shah, he drilled three wells, but did not find oil. The concession was liquidated shortly before the onset of the new XX century. The past of Middle Eastern oil is fascinating. It has many dramatic pages. Known names are recorded. Among the characters there are seers and crooks, heroes and weak in spirit. The history of the region’s oil is a tablet of victories for some people and countries and a register of lost opportunities for others competing in an atmosphere of risk and self-interest.

Where did Russia look?

Unfortunately, Russia did not write this story, although it had many possibilities. One hundred years ago, it was a world leader in the field of oil production and entered the century of the scientific and technological revolution, having an enviable energy ratio. According to information from American sources, in 1900, Russia produced 80 million barrels of oil per year. The level at that time is very high. In the USA, only 65 million barrels of oil were produced annually. According to the latest data from Rosneft, the production of black gold in Russia in 1900 exceeded 10 million tons, which amounted to more than half of the total world hydrocarbon production of that time.

The Baku fields enriched the world fishing experience. The Middle East, with Baku-known open exits of oil substances known from ancient times, lay in the Russian underbelly, and the Russian Empire could not give its hero in the struggle of mankind for the possession of energy resources.

Galust Gulbenkian became this hero. A young Armenian who gained experience in Baku, at the turn of the century, proposed to the government of the Ottoman Empire, under the formal sovereignty of which, before the First World War, many countries of the Middle East were located, to begin developing oil in what is now Iraq. He predicted promising prospects for Iraqi fields.

The turbulent events that seized Turkey and the whole of Europe in the next two decades prevented the implementation of the projects he proposed. A quarter of a century later, Gulbenkian’s foresight was confirmed. The richest Kirkuk oil field in Iraq was discovered. The entrepreneurial banker received the first 5 percent share in the company founded for his development. Subsequently, he secured his heirs the same share in the largest oil companies in the world and received the nickname "Mr. Five Percent."

Where to look for oil?

The main oil and gas deposits of the Arab countries and Iran are concentrated in four large areas: washing the Arabian Peninsula in the east and northwest of the Persian and Suez Bays, in the Sidra Gulf in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya and the Sahara oil basin.

At the end of the first decade of the last century, oil rigs appeared in Iran in the Masjid-i-Suleiman region and on the Egyptian coast of the Gulf of Suez. However, with the discovery of these oil pantries, the shores of the Middle East oil sea have only just begun to appear. In turn were Bahrain and Morocco. The main finds remained ahead.

Moscow, already Soviet, busy with its internal problems, searches for a new cardinal direction in the development of political history, continued to sell kerosene to the population of the Arabian Peninsula that was not aware of its wealth. She sent the “red ambassador” to the Saudi king, then recalled her diplomat, and enterprising Americans, not caring about diplomatic formalities, lighting kerosene lamps in Bedouin tents with Russian matches, studied the geological structures of Bahrain. Here in the Jebel Dukhan (Smoky Mountain) region in 1932, the first oil of Arabia was found.

The irony of fate or the providence of scientists?

Near the richest oil-bearing shores of the Persian Gulf, oil was discovered on an archipelago of three dozen islands, which has its minimum reserves, which are now estimated at tens of millions of tons. With annual production estimated at about 2 million tons, they will run out soon. Be that as it may, thanks to the discovery of oil, the Bahraini were the first among the Arabian Arabs to build a cinema and airport, were able to spend evening leisure time under electric lighting, and thus became the most enlightened inhabitants of Arabia. In the Emirates, where electricity appeared more than 30 years later, almost two more generations of residents continued to remain in the darkness of ignorance until 1967.

American research

The American geologist Fred Davis, looking at the horizon over the 25-kilometer strait, the silhouette of the Jebel Dahran hill in the now eastern province of Saudi Arabia, drew attention to its similarity with Dukhan Hill, where he and his colleagues were lucky.

The United States was not one of the first states to recognize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the USSR. They were not the first in attempts to develop his wealth. Back in 1923, King Abdel Aziz reluctantly allowed foreigners to explore and evaluate the mineral and energy resources of the vast Saudi state that he created at that time and had not yet approved its borders.

The first concession was received by the energetic New Zealander Frank Helms, who represented the London financial syndicate. But neither the syndicate nor the entrepreneur was able to convince any oil company to go to take risks in an off-road, tent, sandy kingdom. The concession of 30 thousand square miles did not take place. There were other applicants, but, as the scientists say, "lucky for the prepared mind." Fred Davis and his colleagues Bert Miller and Craig Henry, having gained experience in Bahrain, knew where to look. Based on their recommendation, Standard Oil of California signed a concession agreement with Saudi Arabia. That was in May 1933. The named date can be considered a reference point for the history of Saudi oil.

US geologists arrived on the east coast of the kingdom less than four months after signing the agreement. Geologists Bert Miller and Craig Henry moved to the mainland from Bahrain. They stopped in a more or less adapted to the life of a Western man, seaside, sleepy Al-Jubail, a hundred kilometers from the Dahran hill. The hill was dubbed the Dammam dome after the Dammam fishing village, which in turn received its sonorous name from the thunder of drums, with which its residents accompanied the return of fishermen from the sea.

Dammam and Jubail, now large Saudi industrial centers, lived at that time in pearl fisheries and fishing in the conditions of patriarchal antiquity: without roads, cars, communications, electricity, lacking water, suffering from diseases due to poverty and food monotony diet. And there was simply nothing in Dahran’s place. The current capital of the Eastern province, the university center, the city where the headquarters of the largest world oil company "ARAMCO" is located, owes its birth to the choice of geologists who put up their tents here. Everything, from a nail to a button, had to be brought along, built roads, houses, drilled wells in search of drinking water. There were problems with the local population, which for the most part did not meet with representatives of a foreign-language civilization. For the convenience of living on Wednesday, Americans had to give up trousers and put on long-sex shirts.

The financial risk of the American company was great. Now, jumps in the cost of a barrel of oil of tens of dollars is a common phenomenon. In those days, a barrel cost less than 50 cents, just. The company could afford to bear expenses for a long period only with the expectation of great luck, large oil reserves and, being confident that oil would impose its price in the mechanizing twentieth century. Of the motorized United States, the importance of oil for the gathering speed of the movement of mankind was already clearly visible. And the choice was made.

After inspecting the area, the company’s specialists were convinced that they had a copy of the Bahrain island on the mainland. They made topographic maps of the area, made aerial photographs and decided that their place of work would be the Dammam dome, and oil should be sought here at a depth of the Bahraini layer, at a level of 600 meters.

It was this last choice that cost the company many worries, and the geologists themselves and hundreds of people working with them - sleepless nights.

The first oil of Arabia: hopes and disappointments

On April 30, 1935, drilling of the first Dammam-1 (D-1) well began. She was destined to become historical only thanks to her pioneering number, and the towers had to be erected again and again until their number reached the magic number in Islam. After 7 months - this is the number - Dammam-1 gave gas and signs of oil at a depth of seven hundred meters. Due to equipment failure, drillers were forced to cement the well. On the same day, started Dammam-2.

Oil was found at the level of the Bahrain zone at a depth of 663 meters. The results are deemed encouraging. The company decides to expand the search. San Francisco has received instructions to drill four more wells. Prefabricated houses, equipment, equipment were sent from the United States to ElHasu, as the current Eastern Province was then called - everything necessary to continue work. A decision has been made that will become historic - to drill well number 7 to great depths.

By the end of 1936, 62 Americans and more than 1,000 Saudis were already working in the Dammam Dome area. But the dances of joy were replaced by problems and sorrows. One by one. Deepening the D-1 to 975 meters yielded nothing. D-2 turned out to be "raw" and gave ten times more water than oil. 100 barrels of heavy oil with 15 percent water were pumped out of D-3 with difficulty. D-4 was as dry as bone, D-5 was just as hopeless. Wild Cat, a well drilled at random in early 1937 in the El Alat area, 20 miles northwest of Dahran to a depth of 1380 meters, produced a small amount of oil mixed with water.

The optimism that arose a year and a half ago began to dry up. Millions of dollars left in Arabian sands undermined the company's well-being.

The experimental well D-7, laid in December 1936, was difficult to obtain: chains were broken, and drill bits were lost. Circumstances experienced by seekers. Numerous breakdowns forced to stop work, to start again and again in the light of the biblical wisdom of “Seek, yes, obryaschite”!

There was no oil in the “Bahraini layer”. Ten months after laying the well at a depth of over 1000 meters, its first signs appeared, but the company's capabilities, the patience of the owners and shareholders were already exhausted. The chief geologist Max Steineke, who supervised the work at that time, was recalled to San Francisco in early 1938.

Working in the kingdom, Steineck crossed Saudi Arabia far and wide. Now they believe that, based on experience and intuition, he did not doubt success, but it also took courage not to give up pressure and to convince the company to continue financing the work carried out in the most difficult conditions, which for the third year did not give the expected results, refuting the predictions of scientists .

Lucky number "seven"

It is not known how the fate of the kingdom and company would have turned if Steineke had not helped the seventh well. He still fought in San Francisco, defending his position when in the first week of March 1938, the D-7, drilled already to a depth of 1,440 meters, gave oil. On the first day, only about 1,500 barrels, and two weeks later more than two times more. The continuation of D-2 and D-4 to the discovered depth of oil also gave good results and marked the discovery of a new oil-bearing layer in the reservoir, which geologists dubbed the Arabian zone. The opening took place, completing nearly 5-year exploratory work. The commercial development of oil in Saudi Arabia was recognized as possible and appropriate. Dammam could again hit the drums, but for a more significant reason. A new era began in the history of the Saudi kingdom: oil provided resources for development and hopes for prosperity for the people, the country - strength and voice in the Arab world, influence in international affairs. The glee was transferred to Riyadh and San Francisco, where the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (Casoc) was created to develop the field.

King Abdel Aziz Al Saud blessed the historical discovery and in the spring of 1939 he arrived in Al-Hasa from Riyadh along the ancient caravan route through the red sands of the Dahna desert, accompanied by a huge curious retinue of 2,000 people. In a place that has just received the official name Dahran, a tent city of 350 white tents was laid out. Poetic evenings, races on longboats and visits to unusual sights - oil rigs, which marked the milestones of new horizons, took place. By the arrival of the king, the first oil pipeline to Cape Tannura was built in Saudi territory, where the first batch of oil was awaited by a tanker arriving from the USA.

On May 1, 1939, King Abdel Aziz, according to eyewitnesses, "confidently extended his huge hand to the valve of the pipeline and resolutely turned it." The first oil of future Saudi power flowed along the steel thread of the pipe. U.S. officials were not present at the ceremony, as the U.S. diplomatic mission was not even accredited in the kingdom. The participants in the ceremony rather with timidity than with admiration examined a new attraction among the weathered limestone hills on the sun-burned and sea-saltless coastline - well number 7.

The well seemed a miracle and became one. She gave oil not for months or years, but for several decades and is still not exhausted. Surrounded by an iron fence, it is located on the side of a busy road near the headquarters of ARAMCO, which, after a series of agreements with American partners, has become the heiress of Casoc and is now wholly owned by the Saudi state.

The "mother" of Saudi wells

Let's look at the "Mother" of the kingdom's oil wells, as your correspondent saw her when visiting Dahran. With ARAMCO employee Muhammad al-Idi, we drove up to a site covered with gray gravel, surrounded by green lawns and sidewalks made of small tiles. The site, constrained by oil storage facilities and barracks, was deserted. On the edge of the sidewalk, a Saudi sat lonely with his head completely covered by a red headscarf - gutra. Obviously dozed off. A meter from the sidewalk, in the center of the cement square, is the prefabricated second well head, the blocks of which are covered with silver and red paint. This well head was in operation from 1952 to 1978.According to Muhammad al-Idi, Mother of the Wells presented the kingdom with over 32 million barrels of oil. It was an example of a wonderful fruitful work, "extruding" the "black milk" of the Saudi economy from the bowels since 1938, and was closed only due to falling oil prices in connection with its overproduction in the early 80s. Even now, it can operate without pressure support pumps, and its closing rate was 2000 barrels per day.

On a copper memorial plaque installed near the mascot of the ARAMCO company, the words are carved:

"Well Dammam-7."

Having drilled this well, "ARAMCO" opened the Arabian zone and got the opportunity of commercial oil production in the territory of Saudi Arabia. Drilling started: December 7, 1936. Finished: March 6, 1938. Initial production capacity is 1354 barrels per day. August 31, 1938. "

To be continued…

Watch the video: Saudi Aramco - Era of Discovery 1984 (April 2020).