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Jabal Umm er-Rus; 1933

جبل أم الرؤوس

Part 1

The Search

Areas that peaked the interest of oil finders in the early 1900's were mostly all about hydrocarbon seeps that bubbled to the surface. So it was in the Dammam Pennisula of Eastern Saudi Arabia, less than a half mile from the Arabia Gulf. Dammam was a vast country of desolate. lifeless sand that contained great rock outcrops that rose a thousand feet above sea level and in places sometimes oozed thick tar at their roots.

Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), a subsidary of Standard of California, discovered oil in June of 1932 in the island nation of Bahrain. Those wells had initial flow rates of 9,600 BOPD from a highly porous carbonate zone at 1,530 meters TVD, located on a low relief surface anamoly (Awali). A refinery was built in Bahrain and this oil eventually played a significant role in the coming World War.

Standard geologists believed there to be a direct correlation between seeps and surface anomolies (highs, or humps), much like a number of large productive oil fields that had been found along the otherwise flat, coastal plains of Texas in the early 1900's. Awali was proof of that.

By December of 1932, after its success in Bahrain, Standard geoligists traveled to Jeddah in the Eastern part of the Saudi Arabia, along the coast of the Red Sea, to negotiate an oil concession agreement with King Abd al-Aziz Al Sa'ud. Initially, this grand exploratory plan was all based on trendology with the discovery in Bahrain to the east, southeast.

King Sa'ud consented to an exploration agreement, the concession and the new company was named California Arabian Standard Oil (CASOC).

Two Standard geologists, Krug Henry and Soak Hoover, arrived in the small fishing village of al-Khobar in early 1933. There was no electricity, no running water, no communications with the outside world; nothing. Everything necessary for the geologists and their camp was brought over from Hamad by boat, including an automobile and petrol necessary to wander the Eastern Province of the KSA.

Numerous surface highs were mapped in the Pennisula due west of the Gulf of Arabia, mostly of surface rocks believed to be of the Eocene aged, Upper Rus formation. The biggest, by far, was near a hill called Umm er-ru'us and called the Dammam Dome, a NNW to SSE elongated surface high with similar dip rates as those found to the east in Bahrain.

The two SOCAL geologists spent 14 months in this part of KSA mapping the surface, picking at rocks and rock beds for indication of inclination, sniffed and tasted rocks, found old, heavy tar seeps...then packed their stuff up and high-tailed it to Lebanon to write up their reports and send to San Fransisco.

Their proposed No. 1 well was approved by the main office in California and King Sa'ud was notified of the intent to test the structure sometime in 1935.

On the right, a modern structural map of the surface at Dammam Dome.

Upper Rus dolomites on the surface were so hard the first well in the Kingdom was drilled with a cable tool rig shipped from Europe. Rig hands, mostly Americans, could not dig the cellar and there were no explosives available. So, the surface rock was heated with wood fires and broken with ice cold water deluges. A 6 x 6 x 6 foot cellar was evenutally framed in and the well was spud in late April, 1935.

The first 100 feet of 22 inch OD hole dug with the cable tool rig took six days. The first string of protective casing was set and cemented.

Tar from the No. 1 well was bailed at 385 feet, the likely source of the surface seeps, and drilling continued to 1,774 feet by late Auguest with shows of gas on the rig floor and oil in bailer trips. The well was ordered stopped at a depth of 1,959 feet and on test made close t0 100 BOPD of 54 gravity oil, flowing in heads. Cables were sent to San Francisco and orders came back to set a cement plug at TD and suspend operations, find another location and ship a rotary rig over from Bahrain.

Well No. 2 was spud in late January of 1936. It reached 2,175 feet by May and flowed 335 BOPD that increased over a two week period to over 3,800 BOPD. Most of the oil from these tests was simply burned off. I was medium light with high GOR.

San Francisco, with Henry and Hoover's maps in hand, decided it might be on to something big and started making longer term plans. The rock jetties were enlarged at al-Khobar to accomodate supplies and bigger ships with new rigs, pipe and hands. More Standard geologists were given marching orders for Saudi Arabia.

In the photo above, on the left, is a 1921 Stanford graduate geologist named, Max Steineke, a long time employee of SOCAL with experience in Alaska, California, Columbia and New Zealand. He arrived in al-Khobar in late 1934 and within a year was named California Arabian Standard Oil's chief geologist, given a stable of young geologists, plane tables, an airplane to do aerial gravity work from, a small, very portable core rig and the freedom to roam most of the eastern KSA.

On Steineke's left is a motivated Bedouin named, Khamis bin Rimthan. These two men became best of friends. Rimthan, often referred to as a "walking encyclopedia with a built in navigation device" guided Steineke and parties deep into the desert by autobus, or camel... never to be lost. It was once said Rimthan guided a geological party back to al-Khobar, a three day trip on foot, entirely by the stars. He became quite ept at using a plane table, Rimthan, and is given much credit to several major oil discoveries in the Eastern Province. The two would often lead a party east of Dammam with their little portable rig and drill dozens and dozens of shallow core tests looking for buried structure.

On the strength of the No. 2 well, San Francisco OK'd the drilling of five more wells on the surface high at Dammam. More people arrived along with more equipment. The building of a camp, inland from the sea, at Dammam, not far from drilling operations occured, complete with a cafeteria, a recreational hall and by 1936, the first of many air conditioners. Eventually the camp would become known as Dhahran, now the fourth largest city in the Kingdom.

Wells 3, 4 and 5 were 1,000 to 2,000 foot step-outs along the long axis of the buried dome at Dammam. The No. 3 never flowed more than 100 BOPD and No. 4 was a dry hole.

Re-testing of the No. 2 went into the plan after these disappointments and within several months the flow rate in that well went from over 3,000 BOPD down to 300 BOPD and 1,900 BW. San Franciso went into full panic mode.

Steineke and associates had identified several more surface structures within 30 miles of Dammam to the Northwest, one of them in 1937 tested enormous volumes of fresh, sweet water that delighted the King and all of Jeddah. The Saudi's set out excavating a giant, dammed reservoir to contain the water and more wells were drilled in that area that established one of the most prolific groundwater sources in the entire Middle East.

Back at Rum ar-Ru'us, things were not looking so good.

All the wells thus far drilled on the Dammam structure were lower Cratecous wells in what was called the Bahrain Zone. Steineke was determined, based on gravity work and new rate of dip studies he'd been working on across the Dammam Dome, to reach the Jurassic and test the Arab Zone. His proposed idea was recieved with some doubt and in 1937 he was summoned to San Francisco to explain his idea and remaining prospects in the Kingdom.

In his abscence deepening of the No. 1 commenced with little encouragment. It was eventually completed as a gas producer. Test oil from Wells 1, 2 and 3 were sent to Bahrain for refining. No. 6 was suspended awaiting the head office's approval, or otherwise, of Max Steineke's faith in finding oil in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The future of oil in the Middle East more or less was in the hands of one man, and his Bedouin guide.

Next Up, In Part 2, Riches Beneath the Hith.


Author's note: this is all for fun, to simply summarize an important milestone in the history of world oil and gas. There are countless articles and papers about the first discovery in Saudi Arabia, all far better and more historically accurate than mine. I hope what I have done is stir your interest.

I am sorry for any misuse of the Arabic language or any mistakes I might have made with regard to facts. Again, I am hitting in the high points. This is a four part series and I will acknowledge all of my sources and references at the end of Part 4.

It is my great wish to create interest in what I believe is one of the most interesting human endeavors in the the history of the world. The finding, and profitable exactraction, of oil and gas.

Hydrocarbons took homo sapiens into a world of limitless potential.

2 תגובות

Great article, Mike!

Thank you much for all your hard work.



Great job, Mike!

Thank you much.

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