Petroleum Exploration History of Pakistan

Archeology records that stone implements were attached to wood or bone handles with the help of sticky bitumen (a tarry substance) at least 36,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians coated mummies with pitch. About 600 B.C. Bitumen bound the walls of both Jericho and Babylon; it was also used as a sealant in the construction of brick baths as early as 3000 B.C. Also as Hydrocarbon seepage were found all over the world so the Ancient people might have been used them as energy source. 

Ancient Peoples used crude oil for fuel, as a sealant, as body paint, and for medicinal purposes hundreds of years before the first white settlers arrived. A major breakthrough in the use of petroleum occurred in the 1840's, when a Canadian geologist named Abraham Gesner discovered kerosene. This fuel could be distilled from coal or oil. Kerosene became widely used for lighting lamps, and oil quickly rose in value.

Petroleum exploration in Pakistan began more than a century ago. The first well was drilled in 1866 at oil seepage Kundal in the Mianwali District of Punjab Province. Right after seven year of World’s 1st well Drilled in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania by Edwin Drake.



 Activities continued during the last quarter of the 19th century with sporadic attempts to drill shallow boreholes, as in rest of the world, the earlier exploration focused on seep-ages. Mainly in the Sulaiman Fold Belt. Discovery of oil at Khattan in Balochistan was the main success where thirteen shallow wells produced 25,000 barrels of oil between 1885 and 1892. The Government of Indio-Pak controlled the drilling activities during this early phase.

Up to 1883, a number of shallow wells were drilled by the Government agencies, all near seepages. However, due to rapid decline in production the Government agencies subsequent lost their interest in oil exploration. The problems with drilling in areas of oil seepage were the low rate of oil production and short life. With the advancement of knowledge about origin, migration and occurrence of petroleum, and development of drilling technology, the exploration was extended to other sedimentary regions.

The first commercial success came with the drilling of Khaur-1 by Attock Oil Company in 1915, on a surface anti-cline in the Potwar Basin. Oil was discovered in sands in the lower part of the Miocene formation and a total of 396 shallow wells were drilled in the field from 1915 to 1954. Steady exploration drilling continued in the Potwar Basin and led to the discovery of three oil fields.

Text Box: The first commercial well of Pakistan Khaur-1 by Attock Oil Company in 1915, on a surface anti-cline in the Potwar Basin.


After a lull, the exploration activity passed into private hands: during 1912-1947, private oil companies. Including Attock Oil Company, Burmah Oil Company, Indolex Petroleum Company and Whitehall Petroleum Corporation carried out extensive exploration, basing their drilling operations on geological investigations. During this period, twenty eight (28) structures were tested with the help of 70 exploratory holes. But except for Attock Oil Company no other company could strike oil. However, as a result of exploration during this phase, a wealth of geological and drilling data was generated and four oil fields, all in Potwar, were discovered, namely, Khaur (1915 Miocene & Eocene, 4.2 mmbbl), Dhulian (1935,Eocene, Paleocene & Jurassic, 41.3 mmbbl). Joya Mair (1944 Eocene & Cambrian, 5.5 mm bbl) and Balkassar (1946, Eocene, 31.8 mmbbl).


After independence in 19.47,need for an appropriate legislative framework to organize the petroleum sector was strongly felt and in 1949 the Pakistan Petroleum (Production) rules were introduced. These rules contained incentives that triggered a new wave of exploration. After promulgation of these rulers, Attock Oil and Burmah Oil companies established Pakistan Oil Fields Ltd (POI.) and Pakistan Petroleum Ltd (PPL), respectively, as their subsidiary companies sharing 70:30 in rupees with the Government of Pakistan and private sector.

Pakistan Petroleum Ltd discovered a giant gas field in 1952 at Sui (Eocene, 8.6 tcf) and a pipeline to Karachi was completed in 1953.

This discovery generated immense interest in exploration and five major foreign oil companies, namely, Standard Vaccum, Hunt International, Shell Oil, Sun Oil and Tide Water, entered joint ventures with the Government and commenced extensive exploration. Single-fold seismic survey was introduced for the first time during this phase which Lasted till 1960.

These companies drilled about 45 exploratory wells and tested33 structures selected on the basis of detailed geological and geophysical surveys. This phase brought discouraging results and the exploration activity declined sharply and nearly came to a halt. 

Pakistan Petroleum Ltd. After the discovery of giant Sui field, could not repeat its performance and ended up with five smaller gas fields. These fields are: Zin (1954, Eocene, 0.1 tcf), Uch (1955,Eocene, 2.6 tcf), Khairpur (1956, Eocene, 0.1 tcf), Kandhkot (1958, Eocene, 4.4 tcf) and Mazarani (1959, Eocene, 0.1 tcf). 

These fields remained unutilized (until recently) due to one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Lack of market.

(2) Distance from Pipeline.

(3) Small reserves and

(4) Poor quality of the gas e.g. Khairpur having 70% CO2.

Kandhkot and Uch have since been brought on production while Mazarani is Under Development. 

Two Wells were Drill in Karachi, Karachi-1 and Drig Road-1 in 1956, but there was no success in Hydrocarbon. And Wells were abandoned.



The Pakistan Stanvac project discovered Mari Gas Field Southeast of Sui in 1957 but due to the presence of inert gases the development was delayed for several years. During the same period gas was also discovered, mostly by PPL, at Zin (1954) Uch (1956), Khairpur (1957), Mazrani (with Hunt 1959) and Kandhkot (1958).

These fields however remained dormant due to fiscal and technical reasons. No new oilfield was discovered except for a very small one at Karsal (1956) in Potwar where production declined very rapidly. The drilling activities by other foreign oil companies were also unsuccessful. This discouraged these companies which drastically reduced their exploratory efforts and some of them closed down their operations. At this point in time with a view to compensate the sharp decline in activity and to sustain the oil exploration effort, the Government of Pakistan decided to enter directly into oil exploration and with assistance from U.S.S.R. established the Oil and Gas  Development Corporation (OGDC) in the public sector in 1961.  

Sylhet Gas field (Former East Pakistan) discovery in 1955 was another big milestone in Pakistan’s Hydrocarbon Exploration.

OGDC was granted Concessions in several areas and by 1966 was the dominant prospector in Pakistan with nine geological surface parties, three gravity parties, six seismic crews and one aero-magnetic crew. The resultant OGDC drilling program led to a small yet significant gas discovery at Sari Singh in 1966, the first in the Lower Indus Basin.

In 1968 after OGDC discovered Tut Oilfield (1967) and POL discovered oil at Meyal (1968) several foreign companies began to show interest in Pakistan. As a result the Government of Pakistan signed agreements with American Oil Company (AMOCO) and Wintershall in 1969, the former for onshore and later for offshore Indus Basin. Marathon Oil Company of USA was also granted huge Concession in 1973 along the Makran Coast, half onshore and half offshore. Wintershall withdraw after drilling three dry offshore wells and Marathon closed its operations after drilling one onshore and one offshore wells. Amoco continued its drilling programme but without success in Middle Indus Basin. In 1976 OGDC announced the discovery of condensate / gas field at Dhodak and discovered gas at Pirkoh in (1977).  

In 1976  the government announced additional financial incentives for oil companies. The response was positive and with modified petroleum regulations several companies concluded Joint Venture Agreements with OGDC. Notable among them were Union Texas Pakistani Texasgulf, Amoco Gulf Oil and Husky Oil. Amoco ran extensive multifold seismic surveys in their North Potwar Block and drilled deepest hole (Mianwala). They failed due to mechanical reasons. Amoco, however, discovered oil at Adhi with PPL as operator and joint venture partner.

Union Texas and partners acquired acreage in an area southeast of Hyderabad, the Badin Block and established in 1981 a new oil province with the discovery of oil in Lower Cretaceous sands at Khashkeli. This gave new dimensions to the petroleum exploration in Pakistan as it disproved the long held notion that Lower Indus Basin was only a gas bearing region. Pakistan Texasgulf, Husky Oil, Gulf Oil and Amoco, all withdrew after drilling dry holes.

From 1982 to 1987 there was a considerable acceleration in  Petroleum exploration. While activity continued to be dominated by Union Texas in Badin Block, Occidental reported the most prolific discovery at Dhurnal-1 in Potwar region in 1984. The discovery of condensate / gas and oil at Dakhni (1983), Dhurnal (1984) and gas at Nandpur (1884) and Panjpir (1985) provided new leads to the hydrocarbon potential of Northern Potwar and Punjab Platform regions. During the period from 1983 to 1987 a total of 65 exploratory wells were drilled at an average of 13 wells per year with a success ratio of 1: 2.7. A total of 14 oil discoveries, 9 gas discoveries and one condensate discovery were made.  

In 1986, the Government of Pakistan introduced new Pakistan Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Rules clearly defining the rights, obligations and authorities which were aimed at streamlining and accelerating the hydrocarbon exploration and production in Pakistan. Subsequently a number of independent foreign oil companies entered into joint venture agreements with Government of Pakistan and OGDCL including crescent Petroleum, Canada Northwest, Anglo Suisse, Lasmo Oil and Ranger oil Ltd. None of them, however, were successful except Lasmo Oil which discovered gas at Kandanwari in their Tajjal Block. Later Amoco, Petro-Canada and Phillips were also granted Exploration Licences in Kohat – Bannu and Lower Indus Basin. POL acquired petroleum concession rights over Khushalgarh Block with OGDC in northern Potwar and Kohat region. POL also entered into Joint Venture agreements with OGDCL, Petro Canada and Occidental for exploration in various blocks including offshore region. Oxy discovered oil at Bhangali and Pindori during 1989-90 in their Soan Concession. Pindori-1 during recompelation  blow out and the well had to be abandoned. OGDC discovered heavy crude at Chak Naurang, retested old Qazian Structure and found oil at Missa  Kaswal-1. During early nineties  OGDC also made several oil discoveries in Missan Concession just to the north of UTP’s Badin Block. Oil was also discovered by OGDC in Potwar at Sadkal near Fatehjang, Rajian and Kal near Chakwal. During the same period AMOCO drilled number of dry holes in Kohat region and closed their operations second time in Pakistan.

Other significant discoveries were made by POL at Pariwali-1 (sidetrack) and Turkwal-1 (sidetrack) wells in Ahmadal and Central Potwar Concessions. UTP also continued operations in Badin Block with the discovery of small oil / and or gas fields. British Gas discovered gas / condensate field at Savi Ragha in most rugged and  inaccessible terrain in Sulaiman Range. The most important discovery was made by an Austrian oil company OMV at Miano where gas was found in a giant stratigraphic trap in Middle Indus.

During mid nineties to the end of the century companies like Lasmo, Premier, Shell alongwith new comers like Tullow Oil of Ireland and BHP of Australia became active and as a result gas was discovered at Sara, Suri, Chachar, Zamzma, Bhit and at Zarghun, all in the Middle Indus Basin and Kirthar province except Zarghun which is located in Bolan Concession in Baluchistan.

An Hungarian oil company, MOL, Polish Oil & Gas Company of Poland and Malysia’s Petronas were also grained Concessions. Polish Oil and Gas drilled a dry hole in Sabzal Concession, N.E. of Mari but Petronas made a gas discovery in their Mehar Block. MOL is currently drilling an exploratory well in Tal Concession in Bannu district. Recently OGDCL made a break through when oil was discovered for the first time in Kohat region at Chanda (former Shakardara Structure) from the Datta Formation of Jurassic. OGDC also made two  oil discoveries in their Sinjhoro Block in Sanghar district.

The exploration in offshore regions which had started in 1961 remained limited to the drilling of only eleven exploratory wells of which nine were located in the Indus offshore and two off the Makran Coast. OGDC’s Pak Can-1 drilled during 1985-86 was the first one to establish the presence of hydrocarbons (gas) on the continental shelf but in sub-commercial quantities. The last well drilled in Indus Offshore region was Sadaf-1 by Occidental. This well was also a commercial failure. Most recently UMC (later Ocean) drilled a well near Pasni in offshore Makran. The well apparently did not  reach the objective Punjgur sandstone.

 At present four blocks in the Indus Offshore region are held under licence two by Total, one by Shell and the fourth one by British Gas. Ocean Oil has two Offshore / Onshore adjacent blocks along the Makran Coast. The lack of success and high cost of exploration has mainly caused the slow pace of exploration in offshore areas although the prospects of locating upstands like the giant Bombay High of India cannot be ruled out.



Hydrocarbon Seeps




1.   Petroleum Geology Of Pakistan, By I.B. Qadari.

2.   International Energy Statistics Source Book.

3.   International Information Administration.

4.   World Energy Council.

5.   Pakistan Petroleum Limited.

6.   Pakistan Oil Fields.

7.   Petroleum Encyclopedia.

8.   Pakistan Petroleum Prospect.

9.   PPIS Millennium Issue (LMKR).

10. Geodynamic of Pakistan.

11. US Department of State.

12. AAPG-Memory :Giant Oil and Gas Fields of the Decade 1990-2000.

Pakistan Petroleum Exploration History is Compiled by

By Najeeb-uz-Zaman

Tell :- 92300-5110640