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Abqiaq; 1940

Part 4;

"The Father of Sandflies," بقيق

In September of 1939 Great Britain declared war on Germany. It was an unheralded event in Saudi Arabia as work progressed on the development of Dammam Dome and Max Steinike carried on with his geological work in the Eastern Province.

Italy became an ally of Germany in 1940 and Benito Mussolini, smitten and somewhat envious of Hitler's power, took it upon himself to bomb the refinerey in Bharain, a primary source of oil for the British navy. From an Italian base in North Africa, the mission occured on the night of October 19, 1940. An Italian navigator in one the bombers got lost over Libya, naturally and as the rest of his squadron dropped bombs on Bahrain, he saw gas flares near Dhahran and dropped his bombs on the Dammam Dome. oil field His bombadier missed all wells, tank facilities and structures in the camp, naturally, and returned to base. Italy actually apologized to a neutral Saudi Arabia via BBC radio the next morning.

As geopolitics degraded in Europe, so did they between Japan and the US and for SOCAL, oil exploration in Saudi Arabia began to take on an entirely different meaning.

Geologists Tom Barger, Walt Hoag, Max Steineke and Jerry Harriss, left to right

While Dammam had more wells drilling in it thru the early 1940's Steineke and Tom Barger, the exploration team, turned their attention to another northeast-southwest oriented surface structure about 30 km west and slightly south of Dhahran, near a village called Abqaiq, where it was known its sandflies were so thick motor cars had to be stopped every few miles to scrape the flies off radiators. Barger wanted this test to include the Arab D below Dammam's C production.

Well No. 1 was a barn-burner. It flowed 15,000 BOPD of light, sour oil from the Arab D that sent San Fransisco, and Riyadh, into jubiliation. Barger stayed behind a year or more to develop Abqiaq, then re-joined Steineke in exploration efforts to the south. The field was found to be almost 50 km long.

Abqaiq Field is Saudi Arabia's oldest producing oil field.

It had 18 wells drilled in it by 1945 and some of those wells tested spectacular rates. Because of the war and refinery markets limited to Bahrain, the field did not commence production until 1945 and then on a limited basis. Only in early 1980, with the completion of the "East-West" Pipeline to the Red Sea did Abqaiq's prowness bcome fully known. It has produced approximately 16 G BO to date with remaining recoverable oil believed to be 10 G BO.

The ABQQ 42 well is the oldest producing well in the Kingdom and and produced over 100 MM BO. The ABQQ 75 well drilled in 1948 has produced 219 MM BO to 2022 and the ABQQ 82 well drilled in 1950 has produced something in the order 243 MM BO to 2022 and represent the two most productive wells ever drilled in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and likely in the entire world.

Tom Barger rejoined the nomadic, Max Steineke and Ernie Berg south of Abqaiq in late 1943, near the great oasis, Al Hasa, on the eastern edge of the Rub' al Khali, (Empty Quarter). It was nice there; sweet water and no sandflies. Along the dry river bed, Wadi Sahaba, Berg, Barger and Steineke mapped a large surface anticline and named it, En Nala (Slippers). Things went on hold until after WW II and it was not until 1947 the first well was drilled on En Nala at Ain Dar. It was a producer. A great one.

1943, Max Steineke standing on outcropped, Eocene limetone rocks at En Nala

The next proposed well was a similar looking anti-clinal nose about 185 Km, near Hardah. While driving south along the rocky edge of the Rub, Steineke's motor car became stuck in a salt pan. He and his Bedouin staff emptied the car of tents, supplies and in the process of jacking the car out of the salt, and blocking it up, it fell and crushed Steineke's leg. He was driven back to camp at Dhahran and stitched up. He was later determined to have a blood clot in his leg. He succeeded in drilling his prospect in Hardah, in poor health. It too was a producer. A very big one. Open-hole electric logs of Arab D proved 225 feet of pay.

In late 1947, most likely from the blood clot in his leg, Steineke had a stroke and was sent back to San Francisco where he worked for SOCAL another two years, as a consultant, but died in 1952 at the age of 54 years old.

While Steineke was in California ARAMCO proceeded to drill his prospects in Uthmaniyah, Shedgum (1952) and in Hawiyah after his death in 1953, all along his En Nala anticline. He did not live long enough to know that all of these seperate discoveries along the En Nala anticline would eventually be connected into one giant field the Bedhouin's called Al Ghawar, الغوار.

On 31 January 1944 the California-Arabian Standard Oil Company was dissolved and became known as Arabian Amerian Oil Company, or ARAMCO. Standard of New Jersey (Exxon) owned 30% of ARAMCO, SOCAL (Chevron) and Texaco both owned 30% and Socony (Mobil), the remaining 10%.

In 1973 the Kingdom bought 25% of ARAMCO, 60% by 1974 and the remaining 40% in 1976. Americans, of course, got the same boot they got in Mexico and Venezuela.

On September 14, 2019, Houthi rebels from Yemen, most certainly funded entirely by Iran, attacked the processing facility at Abqaiq with drones taking 5.5 MM BOPD off the world market for several weeks.

Max Steineke, 1898-1952

"Where oil is first found, in the final analysis, is in the minds of men"

Wallace Pratt; 1952



[1] The Energy Within; A Photo History Of the People of Saudi Aramco

[2] Letters From Aramco Expats; 1935-1955

[3] Oilfields Of the World; Second Edition, Gulf Publishing

[4] Discovery! The Search For Arabian Oil; Wallace Segner

[5] Wikipedia

[6] AAPG Bulletins

[6] SPE

[7] The University of Washington Digital Library

[8] Geo-Expro

[9] ARAMCOWorld

[10] The Embassy Of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Washington, DC

[11] Life Magazine

[12] National Geographic

[13] The Arabia of Ibn Saud; Roy Lebkicher, George Rentz and Max Steineke

[14] The Strength of a Giant: The Life and Times of Max Steineke and the Discovery of Oil in Saudi Arabia

[15] Out in the Blue: Letters from Arabia -- 1937 to 1940, by Thomas C. Barger.

[16] Arabian American Oil Company Staff (February 1959). "Ghawar Oil Field, Saudi Arabia". Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

1 Comment

Great history. Well told. I hope you're starting the book.

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