National Geographic : 1966 Jan
EKTACHROME() NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICSOCIETY of Christ, the Nabateans grew rich on the peninsula's caravan trade in incense and spices; then Rome destroyed their power. Today many Arabians, awed by the sand swept solitude and legendary past of the valley, believe it to be haunted. orthodox Islam, for Islam is Arabia's law as well as its religion. This will take time." The pressures of change in Saudi Arabia were first felt 750 miles east of Jidda, in the oil-rich sands along the Persian Gulf. Oil is the lifeblood of modern Arabia. It gushes through shining pipes across the des erts where weary caravans once plodded. Each day the reeking black crude brings more wealth than all Arabia's frankincense and myrrh once brought in a lifetime. Oilmen Tame Arabia's Eastern Deserts Soon after the first oil agreements were signed between the Standard Oil Company of California and the Saudi Government in 1933, a trio of American geologists arrived at the small port of Al Jubayl on the Persian Gulf. By camel and truck they set out to explore the huge concession: 370,000 square miles of little-known desert, an area bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined. In 1938 drillers in Dhahran struck oil in commercial quantities nearly a mile beneath the sand. Soon after the end of World War II, increased oil demands spurred development. Drill crews worked night and day. By 1946, four American companies had joined in the ownership of Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company. In 1950 the trans-Arabian pipeline began carrying crude oil across 1,000 miles of desert to the Mediterranean port of Sidon. In the Persian Gulf, teams of seagoing oil workers floated giant platforms onto the shallow water at Safaniya to bring in the world's most pro ductive offshore oilfield. On shore, welding crews laid pipelines creating a 300-mile-long complex of wells, pump stations, and a refin ery and tanker port on the Persian Gulf.