The story of oil in the UAE started in the 1930s when the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Shaikh Shakbout Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was approached by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), whose partners included the Anglo Persian Oil Company (later renamed Anglo Iranian), the precursor of BP.
In 1936, IPC obtained a two-year option for Abu Dhabi and it created a subsidiary to explore the area for oil called Petroleum Development Trucial Coast (PDTC), much later renamed Abu Dhabi
Petroleum Company (ADPC), although work was stopped during the Second World War. Concurrently, Abu Dhabi Marine Areas (ADMA), a company jointly owned by British Petroleum and Compagnie Francaise des Petroles (later renamed Total), obtained an offshore concession to geologically map Abu Dhabi’s seabeds.
In 1958, ADMA struck oil in the huge 300 sq km Umm Shaif field, and a year later PDTC made an onshore discovery in the Murban Bab field.
By 1962, PDTC had discovered the Bu Hasa field, and ADMA followed suit in 1965 with the discovery of the Zakum offshore field. The first cargo of crude was exported from Jebel Dhanna in Abu Dhabi
in 1962. In the mid-1960s, Dubai became successful with its oil exploration, followed by Sharjah, while Ras Al Khaimah found offshore oil in the early 1980s. No commercial finds were made in the other three emirates.
Today, exploration continues, but since the mid-1990s a lot of effort has gone into getting much better returns from the existing finds through enhanced recovery techniques.
Today the UAE is one of the world’s major oil producers with the fourth largest proven reserves in the world, sufficient for production at current rates for more than 100 years.