Crude Awakening

Article excerpt

Crude oil is formed over millions of years under very specific geological conditions, yet has been discovered in huge underground reserves throughout the world. Billions of barrels of the thick black liquid have been extracted to make petrol, asphalt, plastic, pharmaceutical products and more, making it an exceptionally versatile and valuable commodity that has influenced world politics and has brought about climate change, wars and recessions. Yet this finite natural resource is expected to run out within 50 years. Drawn from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society, these images tell the story of early oil production from Indonesia to Iran and Japan to Georgia

Right: an oil gusher at Sanga Sanga, ten kilometres south of Samarinda on the island of Borneo, Indonesia, 1907. Gushers became an icon of early oil exploration and discovery, as they indicated when a reservoir of oil had been penetrated by the drill and symbolised newfound wealth. Oil was discovered in commercially exploitable quantities in northern Sumatra in 1883, which prompted the establishment of the Royal Dutch Company for the Exploration of Petroleum Sources in the Netherlands Indies (RDCEPNI) in 1890. In 1907, RDCEPNI merged with Britain's Shell Transport and Trading Company, which had been drilling for oil in Kalirnantan--the Indonesian part of Borneo--since 1891, to create Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest private energy corporations in the modern world. In 1962, Indonesia was one of the first countries to join the five founding nations in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the body that coordinates and unifies oil production and prices among member countries. Today, declining oil production and a lack of new exploration investment has turned Indonesia into a net oil importer


Top: laying the oil pipeline at Abadan, Iran, 1928. Oil was first discovered near the city of Abadan, situated close to the Perian Gulf coast and the Iraqi border, in 1908. The following year, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which later became British Petroleum) began building Abadan's first oil refinery and pipeline, which were completed in 1913. In 1980, an invasion by Iraqi soldiers under Saddam Hussein marked the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. Hundreds of thousands were killed or injured and more than a million left homeless following the repeated bombing of oil installations, industrial targets and civilian centres by Iraqi planes. A cease-fire was agreed in August 1988. Today, Iran is the world's fourth largest producer of crude oil, averaging around 3.7 million barrels per day; Above: the Nutsu field, Japan, 1906. Although Japan does produce oil, it has always been in very small quantities: around 125,000 barrels per day. As the world's third-largest consumer of oil, it relies heavily on imports from OPEC member countries; Right: pumping oil into a ship's tanks, Bat'umi, Georgia, 1913. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.