In the period around World War I, discovering and exploiting oil reserves in the Middle East was a top priority for the British Empire. Petroleum was needed to power Britain’s industrialized economy and to convert the Royal Navy’s fleets from coal to a lighter, more efficient fuel source. As the Persian Gulf region fell under the auspices of the British Indian government, many of the oil development activities were run out of Calcutta.
The Anglo-Australian entrepreneur William Knox D’Arcy, backed by the Royal Navy and the Indian government, formed the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC), which discovered the first commercially viable oil field in the Middle East, in Southwestern Persia, in 1908. Next, APOC teamed up with the Armenian tycoon Calouste Gulbenkian to form the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC) in 1912, to search for oil in Mesopotamia (Ottoman Iraq). While imprecisely known to Westerners, Northern Iraq was undoubtedly home to petroleum deposits, as numerous oil seeps, some constantly on fire, dotted the landscape, while the region had the correct geology to host fossil fuels. However, the onset of World War I, which brought Britain into conflict with the Ottoman Empire, ended the TPC’s exploration activities before they even got off the ground.
In what was known as the Mesopotamian Campaign, British-Indian forces invaded Iraq. While the going was tough, the British eventually managed to take Baghdad in March 1917. From there, they fought their way north up towards Kirkuk and Mosul. Along the way, the Indian army engineers had the opportunity to conduct a detailed topographic mapping of the country, where they noticed many oil seeps and met local peoples who extracted crude from various locations for use as kerosene.
The Royal Navy commissioned a skeletal study of the geology of Iraq, which was published as the Geology of Mesopotamia and its Borderlands. Compiled by the Geographical Section of the Naval Intelligence Division, Naval Staff, Admiralty (London, 1918). While not bad for a first endeavour, it was useful only for basic strategic planning, as it lacked the detail necessary to advise site-specific exploration.
In November 1918, Britain succeeded in conquering all of Iraq and the in the post-war settlement, the country essentially became a British client state, eventually ruled by King Faisal, the former Hejazi emir, who was Lawrence of Arabia’s old comrade in arms.
The Turkish Petroleum Company swung back into action; however, its operations were limited, as it desperately needed a far better geological appraisal of Northern Iraq in order to target exploration and investment. As the Indian government was such a major investor in the TPC, it was only natural that it took the lead.
The Geological Survey of India was one of the best and most professional organizations of its kind in the world, with much experience in oil exploration in difficult regions. It was charged by the Raj with making the first proper geological reconnaissance of Northern Iraq, and they sent their best man to personally do the job.
Edwin Hall Pascoe (1878 -1949) was one of the great pioneers of oil geology in South Asia and the Middle East. Educated at Cambridge, he headed to India in 1905, where he joined the Geological Survey, initially specializing in earthquakes and tectonics. He increasingly developed a fascination with fossil fuels, and he conducted groundbreaking petroleum surveys of Assam, Bengal, Punjab and Burma, the latter yielding important discoveries that provided much needed oil for India.
By the end of World War I, Pascoe was the Geological Survey of India’s most senior field geologist and, as he recalls in the present work, during the “Cold Season” of 1918-19, he was “deputed to make a Geological reconnaissance of Mesopotamia. This resolved itself into a survey of as many of the important oil indications as it was possible to include in a five months’ tour.” (p. 1).
Pascoe’s route was informed by intelligence gained from Indian Army engineers as to the best areas to search for petroleum deposits. His route had him follow an arch that commenced in Tikrit (on the Euphrates, northwest of Baghdad) and then heading north up to Mosul, before turning southeast to Kirkuk (the most promising place for discoveries) and then on to El Mansouria (northeast of Baghdad).
The present work is the official account of his tour. Pascoe was incredibly thorough, producing a splendid blueprint for finding commercially exploitable oil fields in Northern Iraq, a feat made more amazing given the short amount of time he had to explore the country.
The present, work, published in Calcutta in 1922, as an issue of the Memoirs of the Geological Survey of India, comes in the form of 14 reports, written at various key locations along Pascoe’s tour, which are illustrated by 10 excellent, detailed geological maps (sometimes two of the reported areas appear on a single map), while an overview of Pascoe’s tour and the coverage of each map is captured by a ‘Key Map’ (before p. 1).
Each report, which was written in the field, and is dated accordingly, starts with an introduction, followed by an appraisal of the ‘Rocks’ and geological ‘Structure’ of the area concerned, and then by a detailed analysis of the ‘Petroleum’ deposits that might exits, giving whatever observational evidence was available, with particular attention to the commercial potential of exploiting the deposits (this was no mere academic exercise but a geological espionage mission for the Turkish Petroleum Company!). The reports make frequent references to the relevant maps.
The most important section is perhaps the ‘Report No. 9: Oil & the Kirkuk Anticline’ (pp. 40-45), which gives the first proper scientific geological analysis of what would soon become the most important petroleum location in Iraq. Here Pascoe observed that “The oil seepages which are very ancient, occur some 5 miles north-west of Kirkuk, and are exploited by an Arab who is said to get 48 kerosene tins full of oil per day. Many pits have been dug, some 15 to 20 feet deep, some much smaller, and the black tarry oil is skimmed off the surface of the water which collected them. (p. 43). As for the commercial viability of the TPC exploiting the oil, he noted in the ‘Prospects of Boring’ that “The seepages are of some importance and the constant evolution of sulphretted hydrogen in not an unfavourable sign” (p. 44), and in Pascoe’s signature dry, understated tone, he opines that “the chances of striking remunerative oil-pools are not remote” (p. 46).
Turning to the 10 large, colourful maps that are folded and housed loose-leaf in a pocket at the end of the work, they are spectacular, and were published in Calcutta especially for the present work. They are the first accurate, detailed geological maps of Northern Iraq, being dramatic improvements over all previous endeavours. Done to a large scale of 1 inch to 1 mile, the topography is based on very proficient wartime surveys executed by the Indian Army. They label all major towns, villages, rivers, wadis, roads, railways and mountains, along with notes on the quality of the countryside.
Upon the topographic templates, Pascoe applied copious geological information. In bright colours are showcased the geological zones, including: New Alluvium (Shaded Light Grey); Mesopotamian Alluvium (Dark Grey); Pleistocene Conglomerate (Brown); the ‘Kurd Series’, being Sandstone & Conglomerates (Dark Yellow); Red Clays & Sandstone (Light Yellow); Fars Series (Pink). He also provides numerous symbols for various tectonic features, including dips with directions, crests and faults.
Importantly, Pascoe carefully labels the locations of all petroleum-related details. For instance, in the case of the map labelled as Plate 5. The Kirkuk Area, Pascoe created something close to a treasure map for black gold, almost as clearly as ‘X marks the Spot’. Just to the northwest of Kirkuk, the map labels ‘Bitumous Earth’, ‘Tar’ and ‘Oil Spring’, on precisely the location that the massive ‘Baba Gurgur’ oilfield was discovered in 1927.
The 10 Maps are all heliozincographed in colour by the Geological Survey of India in Calcutta; they are as follows:
Plate 1. Fatnah Area. Jabal Hamrin and Jabal Makhul and the Jabal Khanuqah. (103 x 63 cm).
Plate 2. Fatnah Area. Jabal Hamrin and Jabal Makhul. (51 x 61 cm). – With a pastedown correction slip over the lower part of title.
Plate 3. Country between Mosul and Sharqat including the Qaiyarah Area. (86 x 54 cm).
Plate 4. The Quwair Dome and Country between Quwair and Atlun Kupri. (53 x 64.5 cm).
Plate 5. The Kirkuk Area. (51 x 50.5 cm).
Plate 6. Tazah Khurmatu & Tauq Areas. (68x 49 cm).
Plate 7. Kani Qadir Area. (59.5 x 83 cm).
Plate 8. Country between Tuz Khurmatu & Kifri. (49 x 73.5 cm).
Plate 9. Jabal Gilabat Area between Kifri and Qarah Tappah. (60.5 x 61 cm).
Plate 10. Jabal Hamrin from Opposite Tappah to Table Mountain. (90.5 x 55 cm).
Pascoe’s work was considered to be a tour de force, and the most valuable source of intelligence acquired by the TPC during the period. His manuscript reports so impressed his superiors that, in 1921, Pascoe was appointed as the Director of the Geological Survey of India, a post he held until 1932. The present work also played a role in Pascoe being given a knighthood in 1928.
The TPC used Pascoe’s reports and maps to target resources and sent exploration parties and drilling crews to precise locations, saving a great deal of time and money. Finally, in the early morning hours of October 14, 1927, the geologist J.M. Muir drilled at the Baba Gurgur site, near Kikruk. His actions unleashed an out-of-control gusher that spilt vast amount of oil all over the surrounding countryside, causing the Middle East’s first great petroleum environmental disaster. However, once this was cleaned up, the world’s largest oil field was open for exploitation (it remained the largest oil source until the Ghawar Field was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1948).
The rest is history, as over the coming years many more oilfields were discovered in Iraq, and the country became the world’s fifth largest petroleum producer, with the fifth largest provable reserves. This brought tremendous wealth and foreign investment to Iraq, which contributed to the country’s famous political instability. The TPC, renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1929, enjoyed most of the proceeds of the country’s oil, until the company was essentially nationalized in 1961. As the decades since have proved, oil has been at times the salvation, but is more often the curse of Iraq and its people.
Interestingly, the present example of Pascoe’s work was contemporarily owned and used in Iraq by the British geologist Robert Bleeck, who is recorded as being a prominent member of the Geological Society of London. His name is signed on the front cover, while the inscription “R.J.C. Bleeck, Naft Khaneh 1924” appears on the front free endpaper (Naft Khaneh is village in Diyala Province, Iraq).
A Note on Rarity
The present work is very rare on the market, the last sales record we could find was at Sotheby’s New York in 1999. There are several examples held by libraries, many likely acquired due to those institutions having held subscriptions to Geological Survey of India publications.
References: British Library: Science, Technology & Business (P) NX 055 -E(2).; OCLC: 8061653