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Oil discovered in Arabia 75 years ago this month

March 20, 2013

Standard Oil of California, which would later become Chevron, obtained a concession in the early 1930s to explore for oil in Saudi Arabia by paying $175,000 in gold up front.  After five difficult years of dry holes, Socal struck oil at Well Number 7 in the Arab Zone in March 1938.

Several years ago, Time magazine explained the significance of this discovery in a short article called “Finding the King’s Fortune“:

March 3, 1938

The king of Saudi Arabia, Abd-al-Aziz ibn Saud, had authorized a team of American engineers to explore the trackless desert bordering the Persian Gulf, an arid landscape marked only by the occasional palm-fringed oasis. He hoped they would find water. A tribal leader with precarious finances, Ibn Saud believed the Americans might discover places where he could refresh his warriors’ horses and camels. But the team, from Standard Oil of California, had something else on its mind.

Oil had been discovered in other countries in the region, and the engineers thought they would find more in Saudi Arabia. Over several years, they drilled more than half a dozen holes without result. In desperation, they decided to dig deeper at well No. 7. They plumbed to a depth of 4,727 ft. and finally hit what would turn out to be the largest supply of crude oil in the world.

The King did not appear to appreciate the news fully at first. It was an entire year after the discovery when he and his retinue arrived in a caravan of 400 automobiles at the pumping station of Ras Tanura to witness the first tanker hauling away its cargo of Saudi crude. Henceforth the King would no longer rely for income on the pilgrims arriving in Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. And his kingdom’s petroleum wealth would emerge as a crucial factor in Middle East politics and the bargaining over global energy supplies.

Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis has memorably described what this discovery of oil in Wahhabi-backed Saudi Arabia meant for Islam and the world today:

…Imagine that some such group as the the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation were suddenly to come into the possession of unlimited wealth and use that money to set up schools and colleges all over the world promoting their particular version of Christianity and you get an idea of what has happened to Islam as a result of the enormous wealth that oil has brought to some people in Saudi Arabia.

It has enabled them to set up schools and colleges all over the Muslim world teaching their brand of Islam—this kind of fanatical, extremist version of Islam—which has thus acquired a scope and expansion which it could never otherwise would have had.  Without oil money, this kind of Islam would have remained a fringe group in a marginal country…

In addition to funding schools and Wahhabi causes around the world, Saudi Arabia has funded terrorism through two main methods:  1) governmental “charitable” foundations such as the Muslim World League, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, and the International Islamic Relief Organization, and 2) private zakat and sadaqa donations from rich Arabs—who themselves had become wealthy from oil and oil-related Saudi boom sectors in banking and construction—such as those listed in the Golden Chain document.

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