A foundation map of the 20th-century petroleum industry

Glen F. Brown, Richard A. Bramkamp, Leon F. Ramirez, Roy O. Jackson, Simon H. Kfoury, et al., ARABIAN PENINSULA [:] MISCELLANEOUS GEOLOGIC INVESTIGATIONS MAP I-270 B-1. Washington, D.C.: The Survey (U.S. Geological Society), 1958.
Color offset lithograph, 44 ½”h x 52 ½”w at neat line plus margins. Very good or better, with light wear and creasing along folds.

The scarce 1958 first edition of this landmark oil map of Saudi Arabia, the product of a remarkable partnership between the Saudi and American governments, Saudi Aramco, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

This is one of the most influential oil maps ever produced, being the first accurate and comprehensive general oil map of the entire Arabian Peninsula. The Peninsula’s topographical features are shown in far greater detail than on any previous map, and the oil fields, pipelines, pumping stations, refineries and terminals of northeastern Saudi Arabia are delineated in red. Much of the information relating to the petroleum industry appears here for the first time on a printed general map, with many of the fields having been lately discovered and the infrastructure recently built.

A note at lower left suggests the immense effort that went into compiling the map:

“Compiled… from aerial photographs and ground traverses. Where photography was unavailable World Aeronautical Charts, British War Office 1:1,000,000 and 1:250,000 maps, and ground traverse data were used. Elevations in western Arabia are mostly uncontrolled altimeter readings. Bathymetric lines and reef symbols are interpolated from data on published charts of the U.S. Hydrographic Office and the British Admiralty.”

The result is superb, by far the best map of the Arabian Peninsula to date, and a landmark publication of the global petroleum industry.

Just a year after Saudi Arabia’s foundation in 1932, the Kingdom granted its first oil concession to Standard Oil of California. Standard created the subsidiary California-Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC) to manage the concession, then after three years of fruitless drilling sold a half share to Texaco in 1936. Finally in 1938 a well in Dhahran, Dammam No. 7, bore fruit, yielding 1500 barrels per day.

Success bred further investment, which bred further success: By 1949, now named Aramco, the firm was producing 500,000 barrels per day; in 1950 it completed the 750-mile Tapline pipeline to the Mediterranean, at the time the world’s longest. That same year, after a threat of nationalization by King Abdul Aziz Ibn Sa’ud, Aramco agreed to share half of its profits with the Kingdom. Business continued to boom, however: in 1951 near the Iraq border Aramco opened the world’s largest offshore oil field; in 1957 it discovered the mammoth Ghawar Field near Al-Hofuf, the largest oil field discovered before or since; and by 1958 it was pumping 1,000,000 barrels per day.

Aramco naturally invested in an aggressive program of geological exploration and mapping on the Arabian Peninsula, first under the supervision of Chief Geologist Max Steineke (1898-1952), succeeded in 1950 by R.A. Bramkamp. The program was halted during the Second World War but resumed thereafter, and was greatly augmented in 1949 by the introduction of systematic high-altitude photography. The result was a group of regional maps far in advance of anything else in existence, but a general map of the Peninsula remained elusive.

Reflecting the strategic import of the Saudi Arabian oil supply, in 1954 the Saudi and United States governments agreed to co-sponsor a cooperative mapping project. The goal was to bring together the extensive work already completed and fill in the gaps, in order to produce

“a series of 21 maps on a scale of 1:500,000, each map covering an area 3 of longitude and 4 of latitude. Separate geologic and geographic versions were to be printed for each of the quadrangles; both versions were to be bilingual—in Arabic and English. A peninsular geologic map on a scale of 1:2,000,000 was to conclude the project.” (Powers et al, iii)

The work itself was to be performed as a joint venture between Aramco and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Aramco side was overseen by Chief Geologist Bramkamp, while the U.S. Geological Survey was represented by Glen Francis Brown (1911 – 2001). After receiving his B.S. from Northwestern in 1935, Brown had done field work in South China and the Philippines, then joined the USGS in 1938. In 1945 he was sent to investigate desert groundwater supplies in Saudi Arabia, the success of which work both led to his receiving his PhD and deeply impressed Saudi officials. After subsequent work in Thailand, he had returned to Saudi Arabia to conduct further investigations at the specific request of the King.

The project published its first 1:500,000 sheet in 1956 and the last in 1964. The general map offered here, on a 1:2,000,000 scale, was for unknown reasons hurried into publication in 1958 (Powers et al, iii), with a second, revised edition appearing in 1963.

Examples of the map quickly found their pride of place on the walls of palaces and government offices, on corporate boardroom tables and in petroleum field stations, from Houston to Riyadh. The present map was at the centre of many strategic decisions that involved hundreds of billions of dollars, not to mention inestimable political capital. As many examples of the map were heavily used during its heyday, it is today quite scarce on the market.

OCLC 30099393 at al, giving numerous institutional holdings. Jo Ann Heath, Bibliography of Reports Resulting from U.S. Geological Survey Participation in the United States Technical Assistance Program, 1940-65 (Washington, D.C., 1965), #601.[1] Parry, “Mapping Arabia”, Saudi Aramco World, vol. 55 no. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 2004). Powers, Ramirez, Redmond and Elberg, Jr., Geology of the Arabian Peninsula [:] Sedimentary Geology of Saudi Arabia (Washington, D.C., 1966), pp. iii-iv, D2-D5. John A. Reinemund, “Memorial to Glen F. Brown 1911-2001”, at geosociety.org.