On the large sample of Khattan oil sent to London, Mr Boverton Redwood reported that it was like the Californian Maltha or black viscid petroleum, from which asphaltum (pitch) was extracted by sun-drying
The truth is that about 200 years ago, oil was found and extracted, and the production was of good quality even on commercial basis
If today someone comes across a claim that oil has been struck at a depth of 60 or 80-90 feet, it would surely be either mocked or thought to be wishful thinking. But the truth is that about 200 years ago, oil was found and extracted, and the production was of good quality even on commercial basis. This quality oil at a depth of 80, 90 and 120 feet was explored, extracted and thousands of barrels were transported on camelback to Harani, Balochistan, and sold to Western Railways for many years. These oil fields were in Marri area, Kohlu District at Kathan.
With the passage of time, the demand of oil for the railways was increasing and so was the problem of transportation. There were not a lot of camels in the area, donkey transportation didn’t work, and camel managers demanded extra transportation fares. Along with these inadequacies, the harshness of the summer heat was unbearable for camels. A number of loaded camels even ran away to unknown destinations to avoid the unbearable heat. Therefore, after a couple of years’ bad experience, oil exploration and production were abandoned. Pumping pipes were capped. Explorers and other officials left the area. Sibi District Gazetteer published in 1902 narrated the episode under ‘Khattan’ (a local word meaning asphalt), which is the name of a place in Kohlu, 43 miles by road east of Bebar Kach station. There, in a desolate valley, in bare Eocene strata, two or more springs of hot calcareous water saturated with sulphurated hydrogen issued out of a fault or crack in the rock and with the water came frequent globules of black tarry oil. The amount of oil so issuing is quite insignificant though the traces of asphalt or dried oil in the strata give evidence of a long continuance of the flow.
A few hundred feet away from the springs on a convenient flat ground, boring was commenced on September 17, 1884 at the expense of the government. The Canadian system of boring was employed and from commencement of operations to stoppage early in 1892, Mr R A Townsend, a Canadian, was in charge. Some six holes were put down at Khattan itself within short distances about 50 feet of each other; the deepest of these recorded was 534 feet in diameter, the hole eight inches on top and four and a half inches at the bottom. It was passed through broken nodular limestone (approximately 200 feet thick) and then into shales with thin limestone bands. Oil was obtained at 28 feet, at 62 feet, at 92 feet, at 115 feet, at 125 feet, at 133 feet and 374 feet, all but the last point being in the nodular limestone.
On the large sample of Khattan oil sent to London, Mr Boverton Redwood reported that it was like the Californian Maltha or black viscid petroleum, from which asphaltum (pitch) was extracted by sun-drying. Its density at 60 F is nearly that to water at higher temperatures, and being lighter than water, it floats. The sample had in it four per cent of floating solids (presumably sulphur and carbonate of lime) and six percent of water.
The yield from the boring varied greatly on February 23, 1888, as Mr Townsend stated; the output 2,500 barrels of oil per six days, which means 15,000 gallons or 60 tons per day. Early in 1890, Mr Oldman noted that four wells were being pumped, yielding a total of 30 barrels per day only; at the close of 1891 pumping ceased as little but water was obtained. The total output between 1886 and 1892 was 777,225 gallons. Afterwards for twelve months, from March 1893, Messrs MacBean and Company pumped the bore holes and produced 60,000 gallons of oil, which was sold to the railways at three annas per gallon. Mr MacBean appeared to entertain the idea that there was no doubt that more could have been obtained had he been able to employ more staff at Khattan. The rate of three gallons delivered at Baber Kach seemed to be about the least working expense at which oil could be put on the railway at Baber Kach (from one anna to one anna seven pies being the cost of camel carriage from Khattan).
The total expenditure of the government in Khattan amounted to Rs 646,259. Of this, Rs 150,000 was for 11 miles of the four-and-a-half inch pipes through which the oil was to be forced from Khattan to Kaura Duff. Through the Chakar gorge, there was also a three mile line of small pipes bringing drinking water for Khattan; for this also credit could be got as likewise for the portable boiler and engine deep well pumps, roofing material, etc. The net loss was probably about Rs 400,000.
(To be continued)
The writer is a freelance columnist