x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Time Frame: Drilling for water, team struck oil at Habshan

An Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company worker took this photo of oil exploration workers drilling for water at Habshan, the site of several major oil and gas discoveries between 1958 and 1962.

Courtesy of John Vale
Courtesy of John Vale

Prospecting for oil in the early years meant getting your hands - and everything else - dirty. It was the same for locals as well as expats.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, the oil concession companies relied heavily on local labourers who worked alongside specialists flown in from the West.

This photograph was taken at Habshan, the site of several major oil and gas discoveries between 1958 and 1962.

In fact, the members of the drilling team shown here are searching for water - something even more precious than oil, as the explorers ventured ever deeper into the desert and supply lines lengthened.

John Vale, who took this image, worked for Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company, which later became the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations in the late '70s. He remembers only that the man in the forefront of the photo was called Mohammed, and that he was originally a fisherman from the town of Abu Dhabi.

In the days before Abu Dhabi oil was exported to the world, economic hardship was a way of life in the Emirates, and men like Mohammed would have regarded working for the oil explorers as a prize job.

If still living today, Mohammed probably finds it difficult to convince his grandchildren that his generation endured such hardships in building the nation.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae