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.
1929 was year
zero for Brunei:
Shell found oil
The Billionth Barrel Monument