Petroleum Industry

Persian Gulf States Table of Contents

In 1929 the San Francisco-based Standard Oil Company of California (Socal)--now known as Chevron--set up a subsidiary to acquire an oil exploration and production concession on the island of Bahrain. Socal drilling crews discovered oil in 1932, and two years later the first shipment of crude oil was exported from Sitrah. By 1935, when sixteen oil wells were in production and construction of the Bahrain refinery commenced, the royalties that Socal paid to the government constituted more than 40 percent of the state budget. In 1936 Socal sold half of its oil interest to Texas Oil Company (Texaco) and, with its new corporate partner, formed the Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco). In the years up to independence in 1971, Bapco oil revenues annually averaged 60 percent of government income and helped to finance major development, education, and health programs. The government of Bahrain acquired a 60 percent interest in Bapco in 1975 and assumed control of the remaining 40 percent in 1980.

Bahrain's proven oil reserves are limited in comparison with the extensive oil fields of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As early as 1965, Bapco estimated that one-half of the island's total oil had been depleted. Oil production peaked in 1977 at 77,000 barrels per day and steadily declined thereafter.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, two developments helped to maintain the government's relatively high income from oil revenues despite declining production. First was Bahrain's share of profits from the offshore Abu Safah oil field in the Persian Gulf between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. When the two countries demarcated their marine boundaries in 1958, Bahrain ceded its claims to an area of the gulf north of the island in return for a Saudi agreement to share the profits from any oil that might be discovered there. Subsequently, oil in commercial quantities was found in the seabed, and from 1968 to 1986, revenues from the Abu Safah field contributed significantly to Bahrain's overall oil income. Since production from the Abu Safah field ceased in early 1987, Saudi Arabia has provided Bahrain with 75,000 bpd of crude oil as compensation for this loss.

The second development was the more than tenfold increase in oil revenues that followed the December 1973 decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to triple the international price of crude oil. During 1974 and 1975, income from oil accounted for an unprecedented 80 percent of government revenues, although this percentage gradually declined in subsequent years. Nevertheless, as long as oil prices remained high, oil revenues remained high. At the end of 1985, however, Saudi Arabia significantly increased its own oil production, which resulted in a glut of oil on international markets and caused prices to fall by more than 50 percent in just a few months. Bapco could not increase production from its declining oil fields beyond 42,000 bpd, and consequently Bahrain's oil revenues in 1986 were 65 percent less than in 1985. Oil revenues did not increase substantially until 1990, when the regional political crisis that accompanied Iraq's invasion of Kuwait precipitated a rise in oil prices. In 1991 oil revenues constituted about 62 percent of revenues in the government's budget.

Although Bahrain has had an oil-based economy since 1935, by 1993 proven reserves were estimated at 200 million barrels, and the government anticipated that all oil would be depleted by 2005. Nevertheless, the country's economists expected oil to remain important long beyond that date because of the large refinery Bapco has operated at Sitrah since 1937. Periodically expanded and modernized, the refinery has the capacity to process 250,000 bpd of crude oil, at least five times the amount produced by the island's oil wells. During 1992 the United States firm Bechtel Corporation began expanding the refinery's capacity to 360,000 bpd. More than 80 percent of the petroleum that the refinery processes comes via pipeline from Saudi Arabia. The Sitrah refinery has been refining Saudi crude oil since 1938 and expects to continue to do so well into the twenty-first century. Its refined petroleum products, most of which are exported, include aviation fuel, fuel oil, and gasoline.

Substantial deposits of natural gas are associated with Bahrain's oil fields. Before 1979, when the government established the Bahrain National Gas Company (Banagas), an estimated 3 million cubic meters per day of this gas were being vented to the atmosphere. Banagas opened a gas liquefaction plant that collected this gas and processed it into propane, butane, and naphtha. There are also large deposits of natural gas in the Khuff field, which is separate from the oil fields. Banagas has drilled more than fifteen wells to tap this gas, which is used for fuel to power the oil refinery, electric generators, and the water desalination plant. Some of the gas is reinjected into the oil fields to maintain reservoir pressure and stimulate production. In 1990 Banagas estimated total natural gas reserves at 209 trillion cubic meters; daily production averaged about 20 million cubic meters.

More about the Economy of Bahrain.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress