Abu Dhabi Oil 1922 - 2022 (Part 1)


The aim of our exhibition is to depict the history and development of oil in Abu Dhabi over the past 100 years through documents, photographs, videos and newspaper cuttings from our collection.

The petroleum industry has been the principal stimulant of economic growth in Abu Dhabi, bringing changes to every aspect of life and accelerating its development, giving it a place of prime socioeconomic importance in the world today.

A hundred years ago, the Abu Dhabi economy, which was heavily dependent on the pearl trade, was on the brink of collapse as a result of World War 1 and the advent of cultured pearls.

In 1922, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company sought to persuade the British Colonial Office to reserve areas in the Gulf, including the Trucial Coast, as a monopoly for their future exploration.

During the first half of 1922, undertakings were secured from the Trucial Coast Rulers by which they transferred to the British Government control over the granting of oil concessions in their territories.

Abu Dhabi made its first foray into the search for oil in the mid-1930s, when Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, granted a two-year option to the D'Arcy Exploration Company to carry out geological surveys in Abu Dhabi territory.


Author: UAE National Library and Archives

1920s – The beginning


On 3 May 1922, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Bin Khalifa, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, signed an undertaking that any concession for oil in his territory would only be granted to the designated representative of the British Government.

Undertaking given to the British Government by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, regarding the granting of Oil Concessions, 3 May 1922. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives, London, England

1930s – First Steps


The first survey took place in 1936 in the Buraimi Oasis and along the Abu Dhabi Coast, which only exposed the future difficulties for oil exploration, as the existing technology relied on mapping exposed rock formations, while most of Abu Dhabi was covered in sand.
1940s – World War hiatus


With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the oil companies stopped all oil exploration activity in the Trucial States before resuming their work in 1946.

Receipt from Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, to Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) Limited for Rs. 400,000/- as per the oil agreement, 12 July 1949. © BP plc

1950s – Drilling for oil, arbitration and discovery


Abu Dhabi’s first oil well was spudded on 16 February 1950 in Abu Dhabi territory at Ras Sadr which turned out to be dry. In 1958, Abu Dhabi Marine Areas Ltd (ADMA) struck oil at the Umm Sheif oilfield near Das Island using a marine drilling platform, the ADMA Enterprise. A super-giant field with oil in commercial quantities, measuring about 300 km2 in size, was discovered.
1960s – Economy on the rise


The first cargo of oil was exported from Das Island on 5 July 1962. This not only marked an important stage in the development of Abu Dhabi oil resources, but was also a momentous occasion in the progress and development of Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, following disappointing findings in their previously identified seismic structures, the Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) Limited made their first commercially viable onshore discovery at Murban in 1960 which came on stream in 1963.