January 14, 2024

Decades before India’s first oil find in Digboi, the earliest recorded reference of oil in India can be traced to Lieut. R Wilcox of the 46th Regiment Native Infantry. In 1825, he saw liquids rising to the surface at Supkhong in Assam, northeastern India, with great bubbling of gas and green petroleum. Story also says that oil was found in Assam as an elephant hauling logs from the forest returned with distinct traces of oil on its feet and trail. In 1867, a large group of men were engaged in laying railway tracks for the Assam Railway and Trading in an area very close to what is now the town of Digboi. They had to work in the dense forest where the only visitors were animals, birds and insects. The place is said to have smelt of the rain: soaked forest mingled with a heavy odour of something that smelt like oil. The first commercial discovery of crude oil in India was made in 1889 at Digboi in the state of Assam, when a group of men erected a 20 meter high thatch covered wooden structure, marking the establishment of the first well. Oil was struck at a depth of 178 ft. It is said that the town gets its name from the phrase “dig-boy-dig,” which is what the English told the labourers as they dug for crude oil. Development drilling began in 1891, and in 1901, Asia’s first oil refinery was set. In the meantime the AOC (Assam Oil Company) was formed in 1899 to look after the running of the oil business in this area. Over 1,000 wells have been drilled in Digboi and the field is still producing some oil, making it the world’s oldest continuously producing oilfield. (Image: Early drilling times near Digboi)