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The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was an English company founded in 1908 following the discovery of a large oil field in Masjed Soleiman, Iran. It was the first company to extract petroleum from Iran. In 1935 APOC was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and in 1954 it became the British Petroleum Company (BP), one of the antecedents of the modern BP plc.
In 1901 William Knox D'Arcy, a millionaire London socialite, negotiated an oil concession with Mozzafar al-Din Shah Qajar of Persia. He assumed exclusive rights to prospect for oil for 60 years in a vast tract of territory including most of Iran. In exchange the Shah received £20,000 (£1.8 million today), an equal amount in shares of D'Arcy's company, and a promise of 16% of future profits.
D'Arcy hired geologist George Bernard Reynolds to do the prospecting in the Iranian desert. Conditions were extremely harsh: "small pox raged, bandits and warlords ruled, water was all but unavailable, and temperatures often soared past 50°C". After several years of prospecting, D'Arcy's fortune dwindled away and he was forced to sell most of his rights to a Glasgow-based syndicate, the Burmah Oil Company.
By 1908 having sunk more than £500,000 into their Persian venture and found no oil, D'Arcy and Burmah decided to abandon exploration in Iran. In early May 1908 they sent Reynolds a telegram telling him that they had run out of money and ordering him to "cease work, dismiss the staff, dismantle anything worth the cost of transporting to the coast for re-shipment, and come home." Reynolds delayed following these orders and in a stroke of luck, struck oil shortly after on May 26, 1908.
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On 14 April 1909, Burmah Oil created the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) as a subsidiary and also sold shares to the public.
Volume production of Persian oil products eventually started in 1913 from a refinery built at Abadan, for its first 50 years the largest oil refinery in the world (see Abadan Refinery). In 1913, shortly before World War I, APOC managers negotiated with a new customer, Winston Churchill, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty. Churchill, as a part of a three-year expansion program, sought to modernize Britain's navy by abandoning the use of coal. Furthermore, Churchill wanted to free Britain from its reliance on the Standard Oil and Royal Dutch-Shell oil companies. In exchange for secure oil supplies for its ships, the British government injected new capital into the company and, in doing so, acquired a controlling interest in APOC. The contract that was set up between the British Government and APOC was to hold for 20 years. The British government also became a de facto hidden power behind the oil company.
APOC took a 50% share in a new Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC) organized in 1912 by Calouste Gulbenkian to explore and develop oil resources in the Ottoman Empire. After a hiatus caused by World War I it reformed and struck an immense gusher at Kirkuk, Iraq in 1927, renaming itself the Iraq Petroleum Company.
In 1920, the APOC also acquired a northern oil concession that had been formally granted in 1916 to a former Russian subject, the Georgian Akaki Khoshtaria. To manage this new acquisition, the APOC formed a new subsidiary, the North Persia Oil Company, but the Iranians refused to accept the new company, giving rise to a lingering dispute over the northern Iranian oil.
During this period, Iranian popular opposition to the D'Arcy oil concession and royalty terms whereby Iran only received 16% of net profits was widespread. Since industrial development and planning, as well as other fundamental reforms were predicated on oil revenues, the government's lack of control over the oil industry served to accentuate the Iranian Government's misgivings regarding the manner in which APOC conducted its affairs in Iran. Such a pervasive atmosphere of dissatisfaction seemed to suggest that a radical revision of the concession terms would be possible. Moreover, owing to the introduction of reforms that improved fiscal order in Iran, APOC's past practice of cutting off advances in oil royalties when its demands were not met had lost much of its sting.
In 1923, Burmah employed Winston Churchill as a paid consultant to lobby the British government to allow APOC have exclusive rights to Persian oil resources, which were subsequently granted. In 1925, TPC received concession in the Mesopotamian oil resources from the Iraqi government under British mandate. TPC finally struck oil in Iraq on 14 October 1927. In 1928, the APOC's shareholding in TPC, which by now was named Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), would be reduced to 23.75%; as the result of the changing geopolitics post Ottoman empire break-up, and the Red Line Agreement.
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The attempt to revise the terms of the oil concession on a more favourable basis for Iran led to protracted negotiations that took place in Tehran, Lausanne, London and Paris between Abdolhossein Teymourtash, Iran's Minister of Court 1925-32 and its nominal Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Chairman of APOC, John Cadman, spanned 1928-32. The overarching argument for revisiting the terms of the D'Arcy Agreement on the Iranian side was that its national wealth was being squandered by a concession that was granted in 1901 by a previous non-constitutional government forced to agree to inequitable terms under duress. In order to buttress his position in talks with the British, Teymourtash retained the expertise of French and Swiss oil experts.
Iran demanded a revision of the terms whereby Iran would be granted 25% of APOC's total shares. To counter British objections, Teymourtash would state that "if this had been a new concession, the Persian Government would have insisted not on 25 percent but on a 50-50 basis. Teymourtash also asked for a minimum guaranteed interest of 12.5% on dividends from the shares of the company, plus 2s per ton of oil produced. In addition, he specified that the company was to reduce the existing area of the concession. The intent behind reducing the area of the concession was to push APOC operations to the southwest of the country so as to make it possible for Iran to approach and lure other oil companies to develop oilfields on more equitable terms in areas not part of APOC's area of concession.
Apart from demanding a more equitable share of the profits of the Company, an issue that did not escape Teymourtash's attention was that the flow of transactions between APOC and its various subsidiaries deprived Iran of gaining an accurate and reliable appreciation of APOC's full profits. As such, he demanded that the company register itself in Tehran as well as London, and the exclusive rights of transportation of the oil be returned to the Iranian government. In fact in the midst of the negotiations in 1930, the Iranian National Consultative Assembly approved a bill whereby foreign companies would be required to pay a 4 percent tax on prospective profits earned in Iran.
In the face of British prevarication, Iran decided to demonstrate Iranian misgivings by upping the ante. Apart from finally allowing the press to draft editorials criticizing the terms of the D'Arcy concession, a delegation consisting of Reza Shah and other political notables and journalists was dispatched to the vicinity of the oilfields to inaugurate a newly constructed road, with instructions that they refrain from visiting the oil installation in an explicit show of protest.
In 1931, Teymourtash who was travelling to Europe to enroll Crown Prince Mohammed Reza Pahlavi at a Swiss boarding school, decided to use the occasion to attempt to conclude the negotiations. According to Cadman, Teymourtash worked feverishly and diligently to resolve all outstanding issues, but succeeded only in securing an agreement in principle while key figures and lump sum payments were not settled:
He came to London, he wined and he dined and he spent day and night in negotiating. Many interviews took place. He married his daughter, he put his boy to school [Harrow], he met the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a change took place in our government, and in the midst of all this maze of activities we reached a tentative agreement on the principles to be included in the new document, leaving certain figures and the lump sum to be settled at a later date.
However, while Teymourtash was led to believe that after four years of exhaustive and detailed discussions, he had succeeded in navigating the negotiations on the road to a conclusive end; the latest negotiations in London were to prove nothing more than a cul de sac.
Matters came to a head in 1931, when the combined effects of overabundant oil supplies on the global markets and the economic destabilization of the Depression, led to fluctuations which drastically reduced annual payments accruing to Iran to a fifth of what it had received in the previous year. In that year APOC informed the Iranian government that its royalties for the year would amount to a mere £366,782 while in the same period the company's income taxes paid to the British Government amounted to approximately £1,000,000. Furthermore, while the company's profits declined 36 percent for the year, the revenues paid to the Iranian government pursuant to the company's accounting practices decreased by 76 percent. Such a precipitous drop in royalties appeared to confirm suspicions of bad faith, and Teymourtash indicated that the parties would have to revisit negotiations.
However, Reza Shah was soon to assert his authority by dramatically inserting himself into the negotiations. The Monarch attended a meeting of the Council of Ministers in November 1932, and after publicly rebuking Teymourtash for his failure to secure an agreement, dictated a letter to cabinet cancelling the D'Arcy Agreement. The Iranian Government notified APOC that it would cease further negotiations and demanded cancellation of the D'Arcy concession. Rejecting the cancellation, the British government espoused the claim on behalf of APOC and brought the dispute before the Permanent Court of International Justice at the Hague, asserting that it regarded itself "as entitled to take all such measures as the situation may demand for the Company's protection." The Permanent Court of International Justice was a tool of the League of Nations which, in turn, was dominated by the victors of World War I. At this point, Hassan Taqizadeh, had been appointed the new Iranian Minister entrusted with the task of assuming responsibility for the oil dossier. In modern political history Taqizadeh is known as a secular politician who believed that "outwardly and inwardly, in body and in spirit, Iran must become Europeanized". Taqizadeh was to intimate to the British that the cancellation was simply meant to expedite negotiations and that it would constitute political suicide for Iran to withdraw from negotiations.
After the dispute between the two countries was taken up at the Hague, the Czech Foreign Minister who was appointed mediator put the matter into abeyance to allow the contending parties to attempt to resolve the dispute. Ironically, Reza Shah who had stood firm in demanding the abolishment of the D'Arcy concession, suddenly acquiesced to British demands, much to the chagrin and disappointment of his Cabinet. A new agreement with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was agreed to after Cadman visited Iran in April 1933 and was granted a private audience with the Shah. A new agreement was ratified by the National Consultative Assembly on May 28, 1933 and received Royal assent the following day.
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The terms of the new agreement provided for a new 60-year concession. The Agreement reduced the area under APOC control to 100,000 square miles (260,000 km2), required annual payments in lieu of Iranian income tax, as well as guaranteeing a minimum annual payment of £750,000 to the Iranian government. These provisions, while appearing favourable, are widely agreed to have represented a squandered opportunity for the Iranian government. The agreement extended the life of the D'Arcy concession by an additional 32 years, negligently allowed APOC to select the best 100,000 square miles (260,000 km2), the minimum guaranteed royalty was far too modest, and in a fit of carelessness the company's operations were exempted from import or customs duties. Finally, Iran surrendered its right to annul the agreement, and settled on a complex and tediously elaborate arbitration process to settle any disagreements that would arise.
The Anglo-Persian Oil Company continued its large Persian operations although it changed its name to the AIOC in 1935. By 1950 Abadan had become the world's largest refinery. In spite of diversification the AIOC still relied heavily on its Iranian oil fields for three-quarters of its supplies, and controlled all oil in Iran.
Under the 1933 agreement with Reza Shah, AIOC had promised to give laborers better pay and more chance for advancement, build schools, hospitals, roads and telephone system. It had not done so.
In August 1941, the Allied powers Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran subsequently forcing Reza Shah to abdicate in favour of his son (see also Persian Corridor) who they considered far more friendly to their interests.
Following World War II, nationalistic sentiments were on the rise in the Middle East; most notable being Iranian nationalism. AIOC and the pro western Iranian government led by Prime Minister Ali Razmara initially resisted nationalist pressure to revise AIOC's concession terms still further in Iran's favour. In May 1949, Britain offered a "Supplemental oil agreement" to appease unrest in the country. The agreement guaranteed royalty payments would not drop below £4 million, reduced the area in which it would be allowed to drill, and promised more Iranians would be trained for administrative positions. The agreement, however, gave Iran no "greater voice in company's management" or right to audit the company books. In addition, Iranian royalties from oil was not expected to ever drop to the proposed guarantee of £4 million and the reduced area covered all of the productive oilfields. When the Iranian Prime Minister tried to argue with AIOC head Sir William Fraser, Fraser "dismissed him" and flew back to the UK.
In late December 1950 word reached Tehran that the American-owned Arabian American Oil Company had agreed to share profits with Saudis on a 50-50 basis. The UK Foreign Office rejected the idea of any similar agreement for AIOC.
On March 7, 1951 Prime Minister Haj Haj Ali Razmara was assassinated by the Fadayan-e Islam. Fadayan-e Islam supported the demands of the National Front, which held a minority of seats in Parliament, to nationalize the assets of the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. As Prime Minister, Razmara had convinced the majority that nationalization would be folly, but his assassination eliminated the sole voice powerful enough to oppose the demands of the National Front. Iranian anger towards lack of progress in the nationalization of AIOC was apparent when the assassination of Razmara, yielded a distinct lack of mourning from the Iranian public. A raucous walkout of protest by newspaper reporters ensued when a visiting American diplomat urged 'reason as well as enthusiasm' to deal with the imminent British embargo of Iran.
By 1951 Iranian support for nationalisation of the AIOC was intense. Grievances included the small fraction of revenues Iran received. In 1947, for example, AIOC reported after-tax profits of £40 million ($112 million) - and the contractual agreement entitled Iran to just £7 million or 17.5% of profits from Iranian oil. In addition, conditions for Iranian oil workers and their families were very bad. The director of Iran's Petroleum Institute wrote that
Wages were 50 cents a day. There was no vacation pay, no sick leave, no disability compensation. The workers lived in a shanty town called Kaghazabad, or Paper City, without running water or electricity, ... In winter the earth flooded and became a flat, perspiring lake. The mud in town was knee-deep, and ... when the rains subsided, clouds of nipping, small-winged flies rose from the stagnant water to fill the nostrils .... Summer was worse. ... The heat was torrid ... sticky and unrelenting - while the wind and sandstorms shipped off the desert hot as a blower. The dwellings of Kaghazabad, cobbled from rusted oil drums hammered flat, turned into sweltering ovens. ... In every crevice hung the foul, sulfurous stench of burning oil .... in Kaghazad there was nothing - not a tea shop, not a bath, not a single tree. The tiled reflecting pool and shaded central square that were part of every Iranian town, ... were missing here. The unpaved alleyways were emporiums for rats.
Later in March 1951, the Iranian parliament (the Majlis) voted to nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and its holdings, and shortly thereafter Iranians democratically elected a widely respected statesman and champion of nationalisation, Mohammed Mossadegh, Prime Minister. This led to the Abadan Crisis where foreign countries agreed not to purchase Iranian oil under British pressure and the Abadan refinery was closed. AIOC withdrew from Iran and increased output of its other reserves in the Persian Gulf.
Mossadeq broke off negotiations with AIOC in July 1951 when the AIOC threatened to pull its employees out of Iran and Britain warned tanker owners that "the receipts from the Iranian government would not be accepted on the world market." The British ratcheted up the pressure on the Iranian government and explored the possibility of an invasion to occupy the oil area. US President Harry S. Truman and US ambassador to Iran Henry F. Grady opposed intervention in Iran but needed Britain's support for the Korean War. Efforts by the U.S. through the International Court of Justice were made to settle the dispute, but a 50/50 profit-sharing arrangement, with recognition of nationalization, was rejected by both the British government and Prime Minister Mossadegh.
As the months went on, the crisis became acute. By mid-1952, an attempt by the Shah to replace Mossadegh backfired and led to riots against the Shah and perceived foreign intervention; Mossadegh returned with even greater power. At the same time however, his coalition was weakening as Britain’s boycott of Iranian oil eliminated a major source of government revenue, and strategically made Iranians poorer and thus unhappier by the day.
Britain was unable to subvert Mossadegh as its embassy and officials had been evicted from Iran in October 1952, but successfully appealed in the U.S. to exaggerated anti-communist sentiments, depicting both Mossadegh and Iran as unstable and likely to fall to communism in their weakened state. If Iran fell, the "enormous assets" of "Iranian oil production and reserves" would fall into Communist control, as would "in short order the other areas of the Middle East". By 1953 both the US and the UK had new, more anti-communist and interventionist administrations and the United States no longer opposed intervention in Iran.
The anti-Mossadeq plan was orchestrated under the code-name 'Operation Ajax' by CIA, and 'Operation Boot' by SIS (MI6). In August the American CIA with the help of bribes to politicians, soldiers, mobs, and newspapers, and information from the British embassy and secret service, organized a riot which gave the Shah an excuse to remove Mosaddeq.
The Shah seized the opportunity and issued an edict forcefully removing the immensely popular and democratically-elected Mosaddeq from power when General Fazlollah Zahedi led tanks to Mosaddeq's residence and arrested him. On 21 December 1953, he was sentenced to death but his sentence was later commuted to three years' solitary confinement in a military prison followed by life in prison. He was kept under house arrest at his Ahmadabad residence, until his death, on 5 March 1967.
With a pro-Western Shah and the new pro-Western Prime Minister, Fazlollah Zahedi, Iranian oil began flowing again and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which changed its name to British Petroleum in 1954, tried to return to its old position. However, public opinion was so opposed that the new government could not permit it.
Under pressure from the United States, British Petroleum were forced to accept membership in a consortium of companies which would bring Iranian oil back on the international market. It was incorporated in London in 1954 as a holding company called 'Iranian Oil Participants Ltd' (IOP). The founding members of IOP included British Petroleum (40%), Gulf Oil (later Chevron, 8%), Royal Dutch Shell (14%), and Compagnie Française des Pétroles (later Total S.A., 6%). The four Aramco partners - Standard Oil of California (SoCal, later Chevron) - Standard Oil of New Jersey (later Exxon, then ExxonMobil) - Standard Oil Co. of New York (later Mobil, then ExxonMobil) - Texaco (later Chevron) - each held a 8% stake in the holding company.
This group of companies at various stages came to be known as the Supermajors or the "Seven Sisters" or the "Consortium for Iran" cartel and dominated the global petroleum industry from the mid-1940s to the 1970s. Until the oil crisis of 1973 the members of the Seven Sisters controlled around 85% of the world's known oil reserves.
All IOP members acknowledged that National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) owned the oil and facilities in Iran, and IOP's role was to operate and manage on behalf of NIOC. To facilitate that, IOP established two operating entities incorporated in Netherlands, and both were delegated to NIOC. Similar to the Saudi-Aramco "50/50" agreement of 1950, the consortium agreed to share profits on a 50–50 basis with Iran, "but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors." The negotiations leading to the creation of the consortium, during 1954-55, was considered as a feat of skillful diplomacy for the "Seven Sisters". Some viewed the move as one to quell the rising tensions of Iranians since it allowed IOP to divert and hide profits with ease - effectively controlling Iran's share of the profits.
Scottish Oils Ltd, established by Anglo-Persian in 1919 by merging five Scottish oil shale companies (Young's Paraffin Light & Mineral Oil Company, Broxburn Oil Company, Pumpherston Shale Oil Company, Oakbank Oil Company, and James Ross & Company Philpstoun Oil Works), was a producer of shale oil. Shale oil production in Scotland ceased in the early 1960s but there was an unsuccessful attempt to revive it in 1973. The company was wound up on 15 December 2010. The Scottish Oil Agency Ltd was a distributing and selling organisation of Scottish Oils Ltd. A Scottish Oil Agency rail tanker is preserved at the Museum of the Scottish Shale Oil Industry.
The British Tanker Company Limited (BTC) was formed in 1915, after the Anglo-Persian Oil Company decided to become a fully self-contained operation, directly owning a fleet of tankers for sea transport. On formation, the BTC had an initial budget of $144,000 with which to build seven steam-powered tankers. The Company’s first tanker was the British Emperor, which was launched in 1916. The names of the first seven ships, and all later additions to the fleet, bore the prefix ‘British’. Over the next decade, the demand for oil grew throughout the developed world, and the BTC expanded accordingly. By 1924, the fleet numbered 60 ships, with the 60th being the flagship, 10,762 deadweight tonnes (dwt), British Aviator. She was the BTC’s first diesel engine oil tanker, and at that time was the most powerful single-screw motor ship in the world.
The economic depression of the early 1930s saw rising unemployment amongst merchant navies around the world. However, the BTC undertook a series of strategic mergers, and coupled with the continued support of the Shah of Iran, the APOC succeeded in strengthening its position within the industry. In 1939, the British government chartered the whole fleet of 93 tankers to supply fuel to its armed forces during the Second World War. The fleet lost a total of 42 ships sunk during the war.
Within a year of peace in 1945, the BTC fleet had returned to its pre-war total of 93 vessels. The recovery continued with the building of 57 new tankers, each 12,000 dwt, which increased the tonnage of oil transported from Abadan refinery in Iran, whilst remaining light enough for the tankers to pass through the shallow waters of the Suez Canal.
In 1951, however, the situation changed dramatically, when the Iranian oil industry was nationalised, and the APOC removed all its staff from Iran.
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