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12

AND THEN THERE WAS OIL

The economic heart of Brunei pulsates to the rhythm of the many nod-

ding donkeys that are working diligently in the salty water. We stand

next to the ‘Billionth Barrel Monument’ and look at the oil platforms

before us in the sea. The monument was built in 1991 to honour and

glorify the billionth barrel of oil extracted from the oil fields around Seria.

“1929 was year zero for Brunei,” says Haji. “In that year Shell found oil

on our coast, here in Seria.” In the beginning of the 20th century, various

companies looked for recoverable reserves in Brunei, but the search

seemed to be in vain and most of them soon left. Only Shell persisted

and was successful. It provided the Dutch oil company with an exclusive

contract for the exploitation of oil wells in front of the Brunei coast. Shell

shares the oil revenues fifty-fifty with the Brunei government. What we

are most surprised about is that we don’t encounter surveillance any-

where and can take photographs everywhere. Even though this seems to

us to be a sizeable strategic location. Haji is able to tell us that a British

garrison and a Gurkha brigade are deployed in the neighbourhood. We

take notice because a Gurkha brigade is something special: an elite unit

of the British army composed of Nepalese soldiers who are known for

their excellent fighting techniques. Seria is still the most important oil

and gas centre in the country. Because of the many gigantic Shell instal-

lations here, the town is also called Shelltown. And it really is a town.

There are houses, schools, supermarkets, sports centres and so on. Here

live all employees who work in the oil industry, including a lot of expats.

It is a strange world.

TRAVEL

PORSCHIST

1929 was year

zero for Brunei:

Shell found oil

The Billionth Barrel Monument