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Burma today Myanmar, has experienced oil exploration since the first hand-dug wells were drilled in the Central Burma Basin around 900 BC. In 1795, Michael Symes, Irish soldier, diplomat and politician was sent to Burma by the Governor General of India. Visiting Yenangyaung he reported the existence of a well-developed oil industry that has existed probably for centuries, including the export of oil by boat. In 1796 up to 520 wells were registered by the local government. Yenangyaung is located in central Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River, 363 miles from Yangon. The origins of this indigenous industry remain uncertain, with some claiming that it began as early as the 10th century AD. In 1827 British Geologist John Crawford visited the oil field and described hand-dug wells and estimated the annual output at the equivalent of 250,000-300,000 barrels. He also noted up to 200 boats waiting to load oil.
In 1886 the Burmah Oil Company was founded. The company drilled the first cable tool wells in 1889, which resulted in the official discovery of Yenangyaung Oil Field. Burmah Oil Company held a colonial monopoly in the country, until the Standard Oil gained the first lease in 1901.
During World War II, Yenangyaung was the location of a strategically and tactically important oil refinery. As a result of the speed and success of the Japanese advance through Burma during the Burma Campaign and the Battle of Yenangyaung, the retreating Allied forces were forced to blow up the oil fields and refinery to prevent them falling into the hands of the Japanese. The oil facilities were destroyed at 10 pm on 16 April 1942. The Japanese were able to continue using the oilfields, but in the last year of the war as the Allies advanced eastward toward Burma, the oil fields were attacked and badly damaged by Allied bombers.
In 1963 Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) was formed taking over all operations. Today Singapore listed Interra Resources and MOGE continue to drill by the Irrawady River. The long saga of oil and gas production in Yenangyaung continues.
(Source: SEG Library/Search and Discovery/Wikipedia – Image: Oil wells in Yenangyaung around 1915)
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