100 years of Middle Eastern oil

I awoke this morning to be reminded by the Today programme that 100 years ago a British explorer first struck oil in Iran, and began the dash to the Gulf to set up an oil industry.

My sources tell me that the first oil was found at Masjid-i-Suleiman on May 26th 1908 by George Reynolds, working under William Darcy’s licence. This discovery led to the formation of the Anglo Persian Oil company, which proved a very popular investment in 1909, subsequently to become BP.

In an era when it is fashionable to decry oil for its environmental impact as well as for its impact on the politics of the Middle East and the great powers, it is perhaps timely to remember the huge leap forward in our living standards which a hundred years of relatively cheap oil has brought us.

Oil as a fuel has kept us warm and powered our transport. As a chemical feedstock it has enabled scientists and chemical companies to develop flexible plastics, bitumens and other crucial products that play such a role in modern lifestyles.

Doubtless if mankind had not had oil to go to war about the bellicose would have found other pretexts and causes of dispute.

This entry was posted in Blog, History. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Nick Leaton
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    My sources tell me that the first oil was found at Masjid-i-Suleiman on May 26th 2008 by George Reynolds


    Surely you mean 26th May, 1908?

    • Matthew Reynolds
      Posted August 18, 2008 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Well well well ! Could it be that one of my ancestors might have made an amazing discovery ? This is weird because if my Dad had been born one day earlier ( i.e. on St George’s Day ! ) then he would have had that name ! Dad was born 40 years after this momentous find and he cannot believe this….

  2. Keith
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Ahem…Is your first date right?…..2008

  3. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Its a great pity Labour have not developed a proper energy policy instead of putting so much store in windmills.

  4. APL
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    JR: "My sources tell me that the first oil was found at Masjid-i-Suleiman on May 26th 2008 by George Reynolds, "

    1908 perhaps?

    JR: "it is perhaps timely to remember the huge leap forward in our living standards which a hundred years of relatively cheap oil has brought us."

    Yes, our modern economy assumes low cost energy. Without cheap freely avaliable energy, society would be unrecognisable. Thank God (and western technology) for cheap energy! Let's build many more nuclear power plants, to maintain the supply of cheap energy and our high living standards in the west.

    We clearly cannot rely on the good offices of Tzar Putin, Russia where much of the gas Europe (particually Germany) uses originates, is clearly unstable and likely to become more so, the EU has shown itself to be totally ineffectual in standing up to the Russians.

    Energy independence is a strategic prerequsite for independence. Not just independence, as in doing what ever you want, but the freedom NOT to be bullied by for example, the Russians.

    Odd, don't you think that the Left hasn't mobilised about Putin's war in Georgia, because clearly it's all about oil.

    No mass demonstrations in Whitehall, no peacefull sit-ins, nobody going to Georgia as human shields. Could it be because the lefties are actually spineless worms, and they know the Russian military would not think twice about rolling their tanks over and through a building regardless of civilians sitting in a so called peaceful protest.

  5. James
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    First oil found 26th May 2008,shouldn't this be 1908, John?

    Reply: Indeed – and so it will be

  6. Mark Wadsworth
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    "if mankind had not had oil to go to war about the bellicose would have found other pretexts and causes of dispute"

    That's an interesting thought. If anything, it is surprising how few wars over the last 100 years have been specifically about oil.

  7. adam
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    In another 100 years we will have no need for drilling oil. Matter transmutators will enable us to convert one atom into another, a technology that develops thanks to our understanding of nuclear energy, a science environmentalists have tried to block.

  8. DBC Reed
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    This problem is surely not that straight forward: Rudolph Diesel invented his engine to work off practically anything because he feared for the individual at the mercy of big oil corporations and governments.Henry Ford, who developed the Model T for small farms ,likewise believed that the farmer should be able to produce his own fuel from his own fields: ethanol , as far as I can remember.
    On this subject, does anyone now think deposing Mossadeq for nationalising Anglo–Iranian Oil was a good idea?
    If it was n't for the Americans' blind terror of socialism, we could now have stable governments all over the Middle East , a secure supply of oil and the people would not have given up on Western politics.

  9. mikestallard
    Posted August 18, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    We tend to forget the revolution of the 1970s. Before that, i was cold every winter. I took coldish baths. I wore lots of clothes and getting up in the morning was terrible. When I wanted to go anywhere near, I walked or went by bike. Anywhere long distance meant a long, tiring, filthy train journey with foul restaurants and lots of thick black grease everywhere.
    Now, as I sit at my plastic (=oil) computer in a nice, heated house with nice plastic clothes (maded out of recycled plastic made in China and then flown here by an oil fired plane), I am happily awaiting my tea (brought to the shop by lorry).
    It is a revolution in my way of life for which I am really grateful.

    • mikestallard
      Posted August 18, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      Shouldn't that be "made"?

  10. Adrian P
    Posted August 21, 2008 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Rudolph Diesel ran his engine on Peanut oil amongst other things, I run my deisel car on Veg Oil bought straigh from Tescos, it used to be about 60p per litre, strangely, it's shot up to the same price as diesel.
    The CO2 emmited from my car is only the CO2 that was absorbed from the atmosphere Last season, so I have put no Net CO2 into the atmosphere.
    The Global Co's don't want this getting too popular though.
    Imagine the average farmer being able to muscle in on the territory of Anglo Dutch Oil GIants.
    I can't believe we have not built up reserves, where has the foresight been.
    Still after 2012 we may not have to worry about any of this, the Global Elite are lining us up for a Final showdown for World supremacy.

    • Kay Tie
      Posted August 25, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      "The CO2 emmited from my car is only the CO2 that was absorbed from the atmosphere "

      I think you fail to understand modern agriculture. All that fertiliser to grow the sunflowers (or rape, or whatever) is made from natural gas, which is a fossil fuel. Combined with the fossil fuels used to plough the fields, harvest the oil, squash it, refine it, bottle it and transport it to your local Tesco, means that your CO2 emissions are not far off those of someone simply using ordinary diesel.

      By all means use oil from Tesco if it's cheaper than diesel, but don't put yourself to any major hassle "for the environment", because you aren't making any difference. You can make a difference by switching out the lights when not needed, taking a shower instead of a bath, boiling water one cup at a time, getting rid of the Aga, turning down the thermostat, eating less meat, and driving fewer miles.

  11. Bazman
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Russia is a land of never ending natural resources and unlimited manpower.

  12. sara
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    i am iranian
    and i live in masjed-i- suleiman
    i search about history of instruction in my town .

    who can help me?

  13. mike stallard
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    sara – look up these words on the internetwikipedia:
    Ahura Mazda

    The very peak of the whole history is your lovely poetry. Enjoy!

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page