Guardians of the Golden Coast

Collection of publications on the History of Oil in the United Arab Emirates

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Eastern Arabian Peninsula in Pre-historic Times

They knew everything there is to know about rocks. Twenty years had passed since the rocks had been removed to forge a new path, but they were still the oldest records of the Emirates’ history.

Through a rock’s layer, geologists were able to determine the location of a riverbed, swamp, or desert. When they had all been removed,  the elderly could only resort to their memories as artifacts of the area’s history.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Sweet Crude: Abu Dhabi and the Discovery of Oil (1909-1971)

Abu Dhabi city used to be a mere strip of randomly scattered houses built from palm tree leaves, with a few stone houses in the background. All of it lay in the shadow of the ruler’s palace,  which was called Qasr Al Hosn.

Liwa’s villages migrated to join the pearl divers’ fleets. Bani Yas emerged as the strongest tribal gathering in the area, thanks to the accomplishments of Shaikh Zayed the Great.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

1930s

Due to the decline in the pearl trade, Abu Dhabi had become more reliant on taxes imposed on date orchards, bedouin’s cattle, and fishing licenses. There were no initiatives to find alternative sources of income as there had not yet been any indicators of ADi's oil-rich future.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Shaikh Shakhbut was eager to discover oil, telling the oil company’s men that it had been seen in the sea but that the supply of tar had run out on the coast.

Seeking supplies of water for his people

Hearing of the accomplishments of New Zealand’s pioneering mining engineer, Frank Holmes, who had made a name for himself  by drilling water wells in Bahrain, Shaikh Shakhbut was quick to agree to the political delegate’s suggestion of a water survey.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

On 30th September 1936, Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) Limited was formed. Owned by Iraq Petroleum Company,  it was responsible for the management and operation of oil concessions in the area.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

In 1939, the oil company had yet to discover oil. It spent the spring and summer months formulating plans for the coming winter season but had put all projects on hold when the war intensified in Europe and the Far East.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Oil exploration restarted slowly after the war. The Trucial Coast was unsuitable for surveying due to the extreme heat. Geologists’ work was limited to the wide areas of sand scattered by winds, mudflats, coasts, and mountain ranges.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Despite this, gravity surveys were carried out in Abu Dhabi by the 1950s using advanced vehicles, such as Dodge Power Wagons equipped with special tires.

The few drilling rigs that had been set up on the Trucial Coast presented job opportunities for locals. In February 1950, Petroleum Development  (Trucial Coast) dug the first exploration well in Ra’s Sadr, but the findings were not encouraging.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Based on the surveys conducted, a decision was made to dig the first exploration well in an old pearl diving location named Umm Al Sheif. Plans were drawn to build a base in Das Island and add helicopter service for transport and supplies.

The island was soon transformed from barren lands without water or a population into a vibrant center of activity for the oil company.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Oil was discovered for the first time in the lower layers of chalk rock. The crude oil found at Umm Al Sheif was described as “good sweet oil."  A year later, a bigger offshore oil field was discovered southeast of Das Island, named Zakum Oil Field.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

On the other hand, the activation of offshore oil concessions in Dubai was slow. After a hiatus of many years, oil was discovered in 1966 in the Fateh Oil Field. This was followed by the discovery of other oil fields, enabling Dubai to finance new large-scale projects.

In 1974, the offshore oil field ‘Mubarek’ was discovered, making Sharjah the third producer of oil in the UAE.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

In May 1960, when all hopes to find onshore oil had evaporated, ‘Murban 3’ was discovered. After testing, its oil was proven to be of good quality...

...flowing heavily from a reservoir that was later confirmed to be huge, the same as the Abu Dhabi Marine Areas Limited (ADMA) offshore oil field.

In 1962, the company followed that with the discovery of a giant oil field in Bu Hasa.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

On 25th July 1962, Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) relinquished its other concessions on the coast and became Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company (ADPC). A pipeline was made to transport oil, extending from Murban Bab Oil Field to a port for storage and exports in Jabal Al Dhannah.

On 14th December 1963, the first shipment of crude oil was exported onboard the oil tanker, ‘Esso Dublin’.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, ushering in an era of rapid economic growth. He continued oil drilling works with a focus on  industrial-scale geophysical surveys. Contracts were signed with three seismic survey crews.

Guardians of the Golden Coast (2018) by Michael Quentin MortonThe National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates

1971, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC)

It was not made a fully governmental entity as Shaikh Zayed believed that the country could benefit from the oil companies' experience and avoid difficulties that faced fully governmental organizations in other parts of the Middle East.

ADNOC retained a 60% share of the concessions through Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company (ADPC) and Abu Dhabi Marine Areas Limited (ADMA).

The two companies then became Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations (ADCO) and Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (ADMA-APCO), respectively.

In 1977, Zakum Development Company (ZADCO) was established to operate Upper Zakum Oil Field.  The original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company retained their shares in Abu Dhabi’s oil through a concession that expired in January 2014.

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