D'Arcy Concession

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The D'Arcy Concession was a petroleum oil concession that was signed in 1901 between William Knox D'Arcy and Mozzafar al-Din Shah of Persia. The oil concession gave D'Arcy the exclusive rights to prospect for oil in Persia (now Iran).[1] During this exploration for oil, D'Arcy and his team encountered financial troubles and struggled to find sellable amounts of oil. They were about to give up but eventually struck large commercial quantities of oil in 1908. After these large commercial quantities of oil were found, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company took over the concession in 1909.[2]

William Knox D'Arcy[edit]

Main article: William Knox D'Arcy

William Knox D'Arcy was born in Devon, England in 1849. D'Arcy was always willing to take a chance when it came to business ventures. When he emigrated to Australia, he took a chance by organizing a syndicate to reopen and get an Australian gold mine back into operation.[3] It turned out that this gold mine still had a lot of gold yet to be found. From this, D'Arcy became a very wealthy man and he returned to England looking for a new investment and to take another chance. This investment and chance would eventually be to prospect for oil in Persia and the venture later became known as the D'Arcy Concession.[4]

Oil potential in Persia[edit]

During the 1890s, research and reports were being published that Persia had great oil potential. Some of D'Arcy's advisers made D'Arcy aware of these reports and promised him wealth if he invested in this venture. D'Arcy agreed and sent out representatives to Tehran to win a concession that would give him the exclusive rights to prospect for oil in Persia. On April 16, 1901, negotiations commenced between D'Arcy's representatives and Shah Mozzafar al-Din over the potential oil concession.[4]

The rivalry of Britain and Russia over influence in Persia[edit]

During this time period Great Britain and Russia had a great rivalry over the influence each wanted inside Persia. Both imperial powers believed that Persia and the Middle East were important to their imperial economic and military interests. Russia wanted to expand its influence into Persia and Britain believed that this would be a direct threat towards its precious Indian possessions.[5] These two countries fought for influence in Persia through numerous concessions and loans throughout the 19th century. Many British government officials believed that this was where the D'Arcy concession could help. A British oil concession would help tip the balance of power in Persia in Britain's favour.[5] As a result, the British government and its officials in Persia gave full political support to D'Arcy and his potential oil concession. Once the Russians found out about the negotiations between D'Arcy and the Shah, the Russian prime minister tried to block the impending negotiations.[6] The Russian prime minister was able to slow the pace of the agreement until D'Arcy's representative in Tehran offered the Shah an extra £5,000 to close the agreement.[6]

The oil concession[edit]

The extra £5,000 worked and influenced the Shah to sign the concession. At Tehran's Sahebqaraniyyeh Palace on May 28, 1901, Shah Mozzafar al-Din signed the 18 point concession. This 18 point concession would give D'Arcy the exclusive rights to prospect, explore, exploit, transport and sell natural gas, petroleum, asphalt and mineral waxes in Persia.[7] This concession also granted D'Arcy these rights for a 60-year period and it covered an area of 1,242,000 square kilometers.[8] This covered three quarters of the country and D'Arcy purposely excluded the five most northerly provinces from the concession because of their proximity to Russia. In return, the Shah received £20,000 cash, another £20,000 worth of shares, and 16 percent of annual net profits, from the operating companies of the concession.[6]

Early business[edit]

Once D'Arcy was granted the oil concession, his first order of business was to assemble a team to carry out the exploration for oil. The assembled team would carry out the daily operations in Persia for D'Arcy, as he would never set foot on Persian soil.[8] D'Arcy hired Alfred T. Marriot to secure the concession and Dr. M. Y. Young to be the company's medical officer in Persia.[6] George Reynolds was hired for the exploration because of his previous drilling experience. The first area chosen to explore for oil was Chiah Surkh, which is located near what is today's Iran-Iraq border.[9]

The task for D'Arcy and his team would prove to be very difficult. This first site at Chiah Surkh had hostile terrain, warring tribes that often refused to recognize the Shah's authority and any concessions he granted, very few roads for transportation, and was nearly three hundred miles away from the Persian Gulf. The local population near the site also had a hostile culture towards Western ideas, technology and presence.[9] Local religion also played a factor as the dominating Shia sect in this region also resisted political authority and had a hostile attitude towards the outside world, including Christians and Sunni Moslems.[9] Not only was the region and terrain hostile, but shipping each piece of equipment to the drilling sites was also extremely difficult. The equipment often had to be carried by man and mule through mountainous terrain.[9]

Drilling for oil[edit]

The actual drilling did not begin until the end of 1902. The working conditions were rough, as temperatures reached as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, equipment often broke down, there were shortages of food and water, and there was an abundance of insects that often bothered the workers.[10] In 1903 D'Arcy began to worry as very little oil had been found and he began to run out of money. Expenses continued to mount as he already spent £160,000 and needed at least another £120,000.[11] It became evident that D'Arcy would either need more funding through loans or he would need to be bought out.

Search for funding[edit]

After being advised by Thomas Boverton Redwood, who was very knowledgeable on international oil developments, D'Arcy tried applying for a loan from the British Admiralty. At this time, before oil was considered a critical resource, the loan was ultimately denied. Shortly after D'Arcy's loan was denied, one of the wells at Chiah Surkh, in early 1904, became a producer.[12] The output of oil was small, as the well only produced about 200 gallons per day.[13] With or without this well being turned into a producer, D'Arcy still needed money to continue his venture. D'Arcy became busy looking around for investors and he even began to search in France for foreign investors, without much success. To make matters worse, shortly after they struck oil, the well at Chiah Surkh began to run out and turn into a trickle.[12]

The Admiralty intervenes[edit]

Back in London, the British Admiralty began to reconsider and feared that if they did not intervene, then D'Arcy would sell out his concession to other foreign investors or lose the concession altogether. They feared that the French or the Russians would take over the concession and then have a major influence in Persia.[14] The British Admiralty decided to intervene and try to play matchmaker and find an investor to help out D'Arcy and keep the concession under British control. They were successful and with the help of Redwood they were able to strike a deal with the firm called Burmah Oil. D'Arcy and Burmah Oil made the deal in London in 1905 that made an agreement establishing the Concession Syndicate, renamed as the Anglo Persian Oil Co.[15]

New drilling site[edit]

With new capital being provided by the agreement with Burmah Oil, the exploration was able to continue. The focus for drilling now shifted towards southwestern Persia. The drilling site was closed at Chiah Surkh and the equipment was shipped to the southwest of Persia. The new drilling site was established at Masjid-i-Suleiman.[16] Once again Reynolds encountered problems in this region with hostile tribes and the local population. Reynolds often had to pay them a high fee and guarantee them a share of profits in order to protect the concession.[17] Disease also slowed down production and even Reynolds became very ill from contaminated drinking water.

In 1907, without any major findings of oil, D'Arcy once again became anxious. He decided to sell off the majority of his shares to Burmah Oil for £203,067 cash and £900,000 in shares. This meant Burmah acquired the majority of D'Arcy's interests in the exploitation company.[13]

Major discovery[edit]

After mounting expenditure, continuous funding from Burmah Oil and very few results, Burmah also began to grow impatient. It was now 1908 and no commercial quantities of oil had been found and it began to seem as if the beginning of the end was near. Burmah Oil sent a letter to Reynolds telling him to slow down production and pack up the equipment because the project was nearly over.[18] Just as the letter was making its way to Reynolds, at 4:00 am on May 26, 1908, people at the site woke up to shouting, as a fifty-foot gusher of petroleum shot up the drilling rig.[19] At last, commercial quantities of oil had been struck at the Masjid-i-Suleiman site.

Creation of Anglo-Iranian[edit]

In 1909, shortly after the commercial quantities of oil were found, Burmah Oil thought that a new corporate structure needed to be created in order to work the concession.[20] This led to the creation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and Burmah Oil made it a publicly traded company, by selling shares off to the public in 1909. At this time Burmah Oil maintained control and the majority of the ordinary shares. For William Knox D'Arcy, he was compensated for his exploration costs and became a director of the new company, but as his role quickly faded out, D'Arcy began a subsidiary of the Anglo-Iranian company to look for further oil exploration sites. D'Arcy Exploration Company was created to continue the exploration for oil in other countries. See Dukes Wood, Eakring, Oil field, Nottingham. [ Britains best kept war time secret ] William Nox D'Arcy died in 1917.[20] Regardless, AIOC became one of the most powerful oil companies in the world with the largest oil refinery in the world and became an asset to British Imperial interests for the next 50 years.

D'Arcy Exploration Company[edit]

Until the end of World War One, the possibility of import blockades had not been considered, the government's response was to focus on Derbyshire and reports of oil seepage in the local coal seams. In May 1919 drilling exploration was started and in June 1919 oil was produced and continued until 1927, however in 1921 the Government decided to close all oil wells and further drilling until Parliament resolved a question on land/mineral ownership rights. With the secession of war, and the availability of oil imports the matter of rights was not resolved until the Petroleum Act 1934 was passed, vesting CROWN OWNERSHIP of all mineral oil not discovered at that time. Anglo-Iranian Oil Co immediately launched a major UK oil exploration program with its D'Arcy Exploration Company. The program was started out near Portsmouth in 1936 along with sites in Hampshire, Dorset and Sussex, these were all found to be poor development areas. D'Arcy operations then moved into the Midlands and Northern regions, with the most significant find being at Eakring, North Nottinghamshire. The early UK rotary drilling system used at this time was costly, elaborate and time consuming, when compared to the developments, innovations and equipment used in the USA. With the advent of the Second World War and shortages in materials, a meeting was convened with the US Government in 1942, this resulted in Anglo/American assistance with the supply of 'state of the art' equipment and methods. 42 experienced 'Roughnecks' arrived in February 1943,the average age was 24 and were billeted at the Anglican Monastery at Kelham, Notts, from March 1943 and went home in March 1944. Whilst at Kelham they followed the Monastery rules, they also enjoyed the hospitality of the locals in the 'Fox Pub' after work and coined the nickname of 'Robes & Rogues'. Their assistance led to great improvements in time and costs, leading to a dramatic 5 times development in the oil field expansion in Eakring and the UK. The only regret was the tragic fatal accident of Herman Douthit on Nov 13 1943. A seven foot high bronze monument now stands in Dukes Wood called the "THE OIL PATCH WARRIORS" to name, acknowledge and celebrate their work, contribution and commitment to their work at Eakring. During World War Two, waves of German bombers continually flew over the Eakring Oil Field to hit the Industries in and around Sheffield, one of the most bombed cities in the UK, oblivious that they were flying over one of the best kept secrets of the war. The Eakring Oil secret went on to produce 2,269,305 barrels of oil for the war effort, equivalent to a yearly contribution of 43 sea going oil tankers.

Eakring Developments[edit]

From its initial discovery and extraction of oil at Eakring in 1939, D'Arcy Co used and strived to improve on existing oil exploration and extraction methods. This enthusiasm by the Eakring staff for innovation and development was further enhanced by the parent Anglo-Iranian Staff, i.e. Chief engineer Mr Arthur Hartley, father of the WW2 'PLUTO' underwater pipeline concept, and the later establishment of Kirklington Hall in 1950 for research and development. During this period D'Arcy Exploration had devolved back to Anglo-Iranian Oil Co in 1950, and then to BP Exploration Co in 1954. The name had changed over the years, but the ethos of dedication, innovation and development over this period did not, as can be seen from the achievements attained:

  1. First commercial oil well in UK 1939
  2. First commercial oil field in the UK at Dukes Wood, Eakring
  3. First to use fluid injection into Eakring oil field to increase production with two Vertical Triple Ram Pumps, manufactured by Tangye Pumps, Cornwell Works, Birmingham, operating at 3000rpm and 1500psi. A plaque in the Eakring pump house recorded that these pumps were from the 'PLUTO' project. Obtained after the Bristol Channel and Clyde system testing was completed Dec 1942, monitored by Mr Arthur Hartley of AIO
  4. Produced 2,269,305 barrels of oil for the war effort
  5. World's First self powered dill bit, driven by a turbine running off the lubricating mud used in drilling.Invented by Sir Frank Whittle and involved as Engineering Specialist during on site testing on the Eakring Works Site
  6. First oil well in world to be drilled with self powered drill bit in 1953 at Plungar
  7. First Hydrocarbon Survey carried out on South Highlands in Papua, New Guinea c1955, led by Frank Rickwood and included an Eakring Field Geologist G.Brunstrom. This survey also involved making 'first contact' with the Papua Highlanders, who at that time were Head Hunters. The expedition was filmed as it progressed, and shown later to the Eakring staff in their canteen
  8. First to use slant drilling technique in the 1960s, after being developed at Eakring in late 1950s from a problem of a lost drill bit in the bottom of bore hole. Eakring Engineering Workshop made up a tubular wedge named a "WHIPSTOCK" from well casing, this was used to deflect the new drill bit clear of the obstruction
  9. First to discover hydrocarbon in the North Sea 1965 by the Sea Gem Rig
  10. First oil discovered in the UK sector [Forties Field] by an Eakring Drill Crew


  1. ^ Paine, Schoenberger, “Iranian Nationalism and the Great Powers: 1872–1954.” MERIP Reports, 37, (1975), pp.5-6.
  2. ^ Beck, “The Anglo-Persian Oil Dispute 1932-33.” Journal of Contemporary History, 9, 4 (1974): p.124.
  3. ^ Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. Free Press, 2008, p.119.
  4. ^ a b Yergin (2008), p.119.
  5. ^ a b Yergin (2008), p.120.
  6. ^ a b c d Yergin (2008), p.121.
  7. ^ Bakhtiari, “D'Arcy Concession Centennial and OPEC Today: An Historical Perspective.” The Oil and Gas Journal, 99, 28 (2001), p.22.
  8. ^ a b Bakhtiari (2001), p.22.
  9. ^ a b c d Yergin (2008), p.122.
  10. ^ Yergin (2008), pp.122-123.
  11. ^ Yergin (2008) pp.123-124.
  12. ^ a b Yergin (2008), p.124.
  13. ^ a b Paine (1975), p.6.
  14. ^ Yergin (2008), pp.124-125.
  15. ^ Yergin (2008), pp.125-126.
  16. ^ Yergin (2008), p.126.
  17. ^ Yergin (2008), p.129.
  18. ^ Yergin (2008), p.130.
  19. ^ Yergin (2008), pp.130-131.
  20. ^ a b Yergin (2008), p.132.