One hundred years of oil

Zumaque IYesterday marked the 100th anniversary of commercial oil production in Venezuela. On July 31st 1914, the Zumaque I oil well in Mene Grande, Zulia, became the country’s first oil well. In its initial years, the 135-meter deep well produced 264 barrels of oil per day.

Zumaque I has been an eyewitness to many of the country’s most significant developments. In 1936, the well was the stage where the first oil-worker strike was decided. It was also the setting for Carlos Andrés Pérez’s nationalization of the oil industry in 1976. More recently, a group of oil workers met at the well to pledge their support for Maduro and the revolution.

The well is still working, symbolically producing about 12 barrels per day, but the role it plays in our country cannot be measured in barrels. In spite of its significance, no major celebrations were planned to commemorate the date. The history of oil in the last one hundred years is the history of Venezuela as well. This, however, escapes the absurd revolutionary narrative that claims the history of Venezuela began in 1998.

So, in honor of the date, let’s pause for a moment and thank Zumaque I for his hard work. He may look like a bunch of worn out screws and bolts, but personally, I can’t help but feel nostalgic when I look at pictures of him. Presidents have come and gone. Ideologies have fallen in, and out of, and in favor again. Yet through it all, there was Zumaque, swivelling, simply doing its job.

The people who put Zumaque I in place were trailblazers, adventurers wandering about a forgotten backwater. Little could they imagine that this malaria-infested field held incredible and unknown riches underneath.

My family’s history could not have happened had it not been for these folks, and for the massive oil wealth Zumaque I helped usher in. My grandfather fled the horrors of Weimar’s Germany after hearing of the enormous promise of a tropical, far-flung place called “Maracaibo.” If you’re Venezuelan and you stop to think about it, I’m sure that you’ll conclude oil has affected your family and your personal history as well – in ways both good and bad.

Who could have thought that the act of ingenuity of the first geologists, that this well made of steel and wood and dreams, would spur wealth, decline, revolutions, and basically, end up building (and destroying) a nation?

So, happy birthday Zumaque ol’ buddy. Thanks for doing your job. We’ve screwed everything up mightily, but it’s not your fault.

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