Monday, 16 December 2013

Colonial Assam and Development - part 2 - OIL

The discovery of OIL in Assam was a pure fluke!

Legend has it that, while the engineers of the Assam Railways and Trading company (ARTC) were laying tracts for the Dibru-Sadiya railways up to Ledo in upper Assam in 1882, they noticed oil stains on the mud covered feet of the elephants that were used to haul timber and other machinery parts, as these pachyderms emerged from the dense jungles. Retracing their steps the men came upon a spot where oil was seeping onto the surface layer of mud!

William Lake, the English engineer in charge of tract laying, also an 'oil enthusiast' persuaded the company (ARTC) to undertake drilling for the precious commodity. Giving into 'Lakes' enthusiasm, the Assam Railways and Trading Company, engaged elephants to haul the heavy machinery in the dense jungles along with local labourers to start the drilling process. Thus in September 1889, the first oil - well was dug! Although the first strike at a depth of 178 feet turned out to be only a small pocket, the efforts continued and it was only in November 1890, at a depth of 662 feet, that the company struck it rich!

After the 'accidental' discovery of oil, the British formed the Assam Oil Company (AOC) in 1899 to look after and manage the oil business in the area. Then in the year 1901, the first oil refinery in India as well as Asia, was set up in a town called 'Digboi'.

It is said that the town got its name from the constant encouragement the English engineers shouted at the labourers, as they dug for oil - "Dig, boy, dig"! And that is how the state of Assam got its OIL Industry!

From this rather humble or maybe 'flukish' beginning, the state of Assam now has four oil refineries, one each at Guwahati, Bogaigaon, Numaligarh and of course the father of all - the Digboi refinery!

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