Kuwait may be a tiny country, but it is home to over four million people, with some 70% of these being expatriates. The country also has substantial oil reserves (the fifth largest in OPEC) and, at 3 billion barrels a day, it is the world’s number-nine oil producer.
Kuwaitis had long noticed patches of a black, bituminous substances, but the true worth of this went unnoticed until 1935. Encouraged by the Bahrain oil discoveries in 1932, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ruler, sought ways to exploit these black patches and compensate for the decline in the pearl diving industry.
In 1934, the Sheikh awarded the first concession to Kuwait Oil Company Limited, which had been established by the Gulf Oil Corporation (now Chevron Oil) and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now BP). Attention then turned to exploring the promising Burgan area, and following geological surveys, drilling began in 1937.
In February 1938, oil was finally struck and Kuwait saw the birth of the Burgan No. 1 well, which still produces oil to this day. The oil was even under so much pressure that oil workers were unable to contain it until Chief Accountant Donald Campbell managed to obtain a long wooden pole from a local bazar.
Kuwait joined the ranks of the major oil producers in 1946 with its first oil export. In a grand celebration, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah turned the wheel himself and started the flow of oil onto a British tanker.
In line with other oil-producing Arab states, Kuwait sought to regain control of its oil industry in the 1970s. Through agreements with its two original partners, Kuwait gradually increased its holding in Kuwait Oil Company, and by March 1975, the country had complete control of its oil resources.
A dark period came in 1990 when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait following friction over debt and allegations of stealing oil. Iraqi forces were subsequently forced out by the US-led coalition in 1991, but not before they could carry out a scorched earth policy by igniting the oil wells.
Today, Kuwait’s oil industry is responsible for almost half of the country’s GDP and accounts for 90% of government revenue. While the state retains control of the oil industry, companies like ExxonMobil, which makes the Mobil DTE Heavy Medium circulating oil, collaborate with Kuwait Oil Company and Kuwait Petroleum Corporation to address some of the key issues the industry faces.