Around 1860’s, the world witnessed vast industrial development that ultimately lead to an increase in petroleum refineries. This was also the time that our historical journey began as Burma Oil Company. Although incorporated in Scotland in 1886, the Burma Oil Company became an important player in the South Asian market that grew out of an enterprise named Rangoon Oil Company (formed in 1871) to refine crude oil produced from primitive hand dug wells in Upper Burma independently.
The search for oil and gas in India began in 1886, when Mr. Goodenough of McKillop Stewart Company successfully drilled a well near Jaypore, Upper Assam, striking oil. However, it wasn’t until 1889 when the Assam Railway and Trading Company (ARTC) struck oil at Digboi that a chain reaction sparked off, marking the beginning of oil production in India.
While discoveries were being made and industries expanded, John D. Rockefeller and his business associates acquired control over numerous refineries and pipelines. With these acquisitions under their belt, they went on to form the Standard Oil Trust – a giant in its own right. Observing this and to counter the growing significance of Standard Oil, three largest rivals - Royal Dutch, Shell and Rothschild’s - came together to form a single organisation called Asiatic Petroleum to market petroleum products in South Asia. In 1928, Asiatic Petroleum (India) joined hands with the Burmah Oil Company, an active producer, refiner and distributor of petroleum products, particularly in Indian and Burmese markets to form the Burmah-Shell Oil Storage and Distributing Company of India Limited.
Burmah Shell began its operations with the import and marketing of Kerosene and soon proved itself to be a pioneer in more ways than one. The company imported oil products in bulk and transported them in 4-gallon and 1-gallon tins all over India. The company also took up the challenge of reaching out to people in remote villages to ensure every home was supplied with kerosene. Thus, the development and promotion of efficient kerosene-burning appliances for lighting and cooking became an important part of its kerosene selling activity.
With the advent of motor cars, came canned Petrol to be subsequently followed by fuel service stations. In the 1930s, retail sale points were built with driveways set away from the road. As more such service stations began to appear, they soon became an accepted part of road infrastructure and development. Post war, Burmah Shell established efficient and up-to-date fuel service and filling stations to give its customers the highest possible standard of service facilities.
On 15th October 1932, when civil aviation arrived in India, Burmah Shell had the honour of fuelling J.R.D. Tata's historic solo flight in a single-engine De Havillian Puss Moth from Karachi to Bombay via Ahmedabad. Thirty years later, i.e. in 1962, Burmah Shell again had the privilege of fuelling Mr Tata's re-enactment of the original flight. The company also fuelled the erstwhile flying boats that carried airmail, at slightly higher rates than sea transport, across several locations.
Showcasing its pioneering spirit, the company introduced LPG as a cooking fuel to Indian homes in the mid-1950s. As always, it went beyond selling petroleum, educating customers and offering better services and products. Besides selling Bitumen, the company pioneered desert road construction and imparted training road engineers. It provided free technical services to industrial customers - big and small - and over time, this spirit of collaboration became part of company culture.
On 15th December 1951, the Burmah Shell Group signed an agreement with the Government of India to build a modern refinery at Trombay, Bombay. Soon after, on 3rd November 1952, Burmah Shell Refineries Limited was incorporated as a private limited company under the Indian Companies Act and began working on the marshlands of Trombay. With relentless hours of work and effort put in by both man and machine, the swamps gave way to towers, tanks of steel and miles of pipeline. Soon, the refinery spread over 454 acres of land at Mahul, went on-stream on 30th January 1955, one year ahead of schedule. Dr. S. Radakrishnan, the then Vice President of India, declared the 2.2 MMTPA (Million Metric Tonnes Per Annum) Refinery open on 17th March 1955, making it the largest refinery in India then. With this infrastructure, free India moved one step closer to self-reliance
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