Myanmar CNG Articles 2004
Burmah News

The recent occupation of Burmah by the British, and with it the removal of the restrictions that have heretofore been imposed upon industry and commerce, has directed the attention of consumers of petroleum to the character and possibilities of the Burmah oil fields.  The two best sources of information relative to these fields are (1) a British Blue Book "British Burmah Administration Report, 1883-1884,” and (2) a letter in the London Times from a Rangoon correspondent.  From these two sources, the following statement is compiled.

There are two distinct oil fields in Burmah -one on the Arakan coast, in the neighborhood of Akyab, and the other in Upper Burmah, at a place called Yenanchaung.  However, there are many other places where petroleum oozes out of the soil and where it may exist in quantity.  Wells have been dug at Theyetmayo the old frontier town.  At Mimbu petroleum is noticed in small quantities in the neighborhood of the mud volcanoes.  Also, it has been stated by those who went on the recent expedition to the Yaw country to the west of the Chindwin that petroleum was observed.

There is a great difference in the method of working these two fields.  In the Arakan there have been two British companies at work for some years, sinking deep wells by boring till the strata yielding the oil are reached.  At Yenanchaung, the natives dig wells into which the oil oozes through the soil.  In the one case, a boring of 7 or 8 inches has been carried down to the very source of the oil.  In the other there is a well of several feet in section and carried down not nearly so deep. 


Thus the first, as it reaches the source, brings forth the oil as it exists and as it was formed and scaled up in the rocks ages ago; while the second only gives an oil that has filtered through the surface soil and may have lost a large proportion of tire volatile oils in percolation.  There, is also a difference between the oil obtained from the Arakan field and that from the Yenanchaung.  The former yield is a light limpid oil, while the latter gives the viscid, almost solid, substance known as 61 Rangoon oil.”  In addition, of the Yenanchaung oil it may be said that it is hardly refined for illuminating oil, but for lubricating oils and for paraffin.

In Akyab, the wells have been worked and the oil refined for several years past, but the result has been disheartening.  The companies formed have either been unsuccessful or have merely meant  going with­out making any profit on their labors.  At the commencement of the operations about ten years ago, as much as 250 gallons a day was obtained from one well.  Thus encouraged, the work was prosecuted on a larger scale.  Four years ago there were 4 wells, ranging from 500 to 1,200 feet in depth, front one of which, for a time 1,000 gallons a day were pumped.  The company which was then working raised 234,300 gallons in a year, and refined 65,150 gallons, selling the, rest in a crude, state.  As the price of refined oil was very low, there was a loss on the operations, and the works, as above said, have almost, if not entirely, been stopped.  So long as prices are low and little production costly, little progress can be expected in the Arakan oil industry.
The wells in the Upper Yenanchaung oil field were royal monopolies during the reign of King Thebaw and his father.  There were 200 royal wells at Yenanchaung, and about as many in private hands.  Many of these are not working.  At present about 200 are working.  They produce about 30 tons per day, or about 7,500 gallons.  This would give an average of 37 gallons per day per well.  In the 200 referred to are included about 60 situated at Bema, in the neighborhood of Yenanchaung.  Besides those already named, there are, 2 or 3 wells at Theyetmayo.  Opposite Pagan there is another, and in the Yaw country there are 2 or 3 shallow wells as noticed above.  The large proportion of the oil is sent down in barrels or in bulk in native boats to Rangoon.  There is one refinery here, which has therefore a monopoly of the whole oil produced in Burmah.  The natives in the neighborhood of the wells use a little crude oil, but the quantity bears a small proportion to the total yield.

The Blue Book before referred to states that the “earth oil industry, as it tried in the Kyaukpyu district, had not made much progress during the year 1883-284.  The Boronga Company has invested in the business more largely than any one else.  It has steam machinery for sinking wells and pumping oil, and a large refinery capable of refining and tinning many thousands of gallons per week.  They have a staff of 8 or 10 English and Canadian artificers besides Indian and Chinese laborers. 


During the past year this company sank 8 new wells, ranging from 500 to 610 feet in depth.  They have now 24 wells, of which the deepest is over 1,200 feet deep.  At present they pump 9 wells at a time but with additional gear they could pump many more with the same engine. In May and Jane, 1883, one of the company's new wells was yielding largely, and there seemed hope of financial success for the undertaking, but the yield of the well soon fell, and the amount of crude oil pumped during the whole year by the company from 10 wells did not exceed 234,300 gallons.  Of this, the company refined 65,450 gallons, and sold the rest in the crude state.  The gross yield of the company's sales was about L6,000.  Their markets were Calcutta, Rangoon, Akyab, and Moulmein.  The company’s refined oil sold at 9s per case in Kyaukpyu at the same time that a case of Devoe's American oil was quoted in Calcutta at 10s. 6d. per case.  The price of crude oil at Kyaukpyu ranged during the year from 18. to 8s. per “maund” of 11 gallons.  The lower prices of  1s. to 4s. ruled while the wells were being pumped, and the price, was 8s. when most of the wells were idle.
Another company, named the Arakan Company, started during the year with machinery.  It sunk seven wells, the deepest of which was 400 feet.  Five of these wells have been pumped, yielding a total output of 167,800 gallons, all of which was sold on the spot in the crude state.  This company has a staff of three Canadians besides Indians.  A smaller company, called the “Petrolia, Company,” obtained a protecting license and sank ten wells, some of them to a depth of 450 and 500 feet.  Unfortunately, all those holes have turned out dry and have yielded no oil.  The example and the processes of Canadian experts have had an effect on the native oil winners.  These people hold rights in old wells, which have been worked fitfully for many years past.  They (lo not use steam apparatus, but with windlasses, shears, and locally made boring tools they have put down holes of  250 and 350 feet deep.  The deepest bole sunk by a native was 350 feet and turned out dry.  One Arkanese worker obtained a total output of 24,090 gallons at an outlay of L76 for the year; another produced gallons at 20,075 gallons for a  total outlay of L34 for the year, of which L10 were spent in boring an old well down to 165 feet without striking oil.  The Arkanese workers put down their wells and manage their proceeds much more economically than the English companies.  The total output of the whole field, including the Boronga Company’s wells, was 404,325 gallons.  The unhealthiness of the site of the refinery is a great drawback to the Boronga Company’s work.  Yet, no one in the Kyaukpyu field has discovered oil-bearing strata of the type of the good American or of the Caspian fields, and so far, the business of oil winning on a large scale has not been a success.
The imports of crude, oil from Upper Burmah during the year were 968,210 gallons.  Most of this was taken by the Rangoon refinery, which produced 640,000 gallons of refined oil during the year. 


 The Upper Burmah oil is much thicker and darker colored than the Arakan oils.
The chief oil sources in Upper Burmah are at Yenanchaung.  This place was visited by the Government Chemical Examiner in i4ay last, who reported :

“The oil wells of Yenanchaung are situated on the banks of the creek that- flows into the Irrawaddy at that place.  There are two groups, the smaller about 2 miles east of the town 7 the other about 3 miles northeast.  The country is tableland intersected by ravines, the beds, of torrents flowing into the creek.  The surface is covered with gravel and blocks of fossil wood.  Below is a great thickness of friable sandstone; below this, again, blue shale alternating with beds of sand.  It is in the sand that the oil is found.  The wells are sunk indifferently on the sides of the ravines and on the tops of the hills.  The strata appear to dip generally towards the west, with many folds and contortions, and the ravines run in a westerly direction.  Hence, a well at the head of a ravine, on the top of the hill, may reach the oil-bearing stratum as soon as one at the bottom.  We saw a well being dug at the top of the hill.  They had reached a depth of 135 feet.  They were cutting through a hard blue shale full of cracks filled up with sand.  The sand was wet with oil, but not enough to drain out.  Another well, about 50 yards off in the ravine, was 225 feet deep.  It was forty years old.  Oil hall been reached at 160 feet, and it had been gradually deepened to its present depth as the stratum of shale had been exhausted of oil.  We saw some fragments of rock that had just been brought up.  It was this same hard blue shale with cracks filled up with sand that we had seen at the other well.  Going down the ravine, I found a stratum of this oil-bearing rock cropping up, but apparently higher than that into which the wells were sunk.  This was the only well we saw at work; the others were stopped for the day.  It give 60 gallons daily, and might give more were there means of carrying away the oil.  The oil is raised in earthen pots shaped like gourds, and holding about 4 gallons.  From these it is decanted into larger pots of the same shape, holding about 6 gallons.  The work of raising the oil was performed by a laborer and his wife, who were paid 1s per diem, 6d each.  They work in connection with a carter, who is paid 2s. for himself and pair of bullocks, making one trip a day to the river shore, where the oil is carried in bulk in boats to the steamers.  The capacity of the boats is said to be about 25 tons of oil.  The method of raising the oil is very crude.  Two forked branches set upright carry a horizontal beam bearing a roller over which passes the rope.  The laborer takes the end of the rope and runs down hill with it and holds it while his companion runs down with another length, and so on.  While the list length of the rope is drawn out, one of the men is waiting at the month of the pit to exchange the full pot for an empty one.  It is impossible to say what the real maxi­mum yield may be.  Many of the wells are not worked; some of them are exhausted. 


We found that there were 130 cartloads brought from the great wells, and this represented the accumulation of five days.  Dr. Oldham, thirty years ago, was told that the yield was 150 carts daily.  If the wells are worked to their utmost now, unless Dr. Oldham was misinformed, the product has greatly fallen off.
“We were told that two wells had been sunk at a point to the south­west of the smaller wells on the other side of the watershed; that oil had been obtained, but it was mixed with water, and the wells had been abandoned.  I think it very probable that oil-bearing strata may be found all over that strange barren tableland of which Yenanchaung is the center.

  There is a smaller district further up the river on the west bank opposite Pagan, but the oil is light like the Arakan oil.  This is also the case with the oil found at Yaw in the Chindwin district.  It is obtained there from surface springs but cannot be exported for want of roads.  The rock formation seems to be much more recent than that in which we find the petroleum of Yenanchaung in the Myanuang district and the coal of Okpo.
“The imports of kerosene oil from America fell from 2,530,534 gallons in 1880--'83 to 1,205,160 gallons in the year 1883-184.  The reduction was probably due partly to oversupply in the previous year and partly to the stringency of the new Petroleum Act, rather than to the output of local oils.  The Petroleum Act is now less stringently enforced, and imports of American petroleum are more active again.”