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OIL: Why Borneo Is Important

2 minute read

At Borneo’s Tarakan Island last week Dutch oilfield engineers and technicians went ashore close behind the attacking Australians. With them they carried oilfield tools and equipment shipped under Lend-Lease from the U.S.

It was not by chance that the trained oilmen and their equipment were on hand for the Tarakan invasion. For more than a year they had quietly been gathering in the Southwest Pacific, where they stood by in readiness to join the first strike at any one of the oil-producing islands of the rich Netherlands East Indies. As the engineers waited, they watched with satisfaction the growing stockpile of oil-well machinery arriving from the U.S.

The Return. Ashore on Tarakan the scene was much the same as it had been when the island fell, three years and four months ago. The sullen, heat-soaked sky was black with pillars of smoke from the twice-wrecked oilfields. This time the Jap was scorching the earth.

But the military were confident that within four to eight months they could do what the Japs had been unable to accomplish during their long occupation: restore Tarakan’s oil production to its prewar level of some 400,000 barrels a month.

Compared with the annual .prewar total of 61 million bbls. of oil from the entire Netherlands East Indies, Tarakan’s production was tiny. But in the logistics of the Pacific War the importance of Tarakan’s supply is all out of proportion to its size. If the capable Dutch, most of whom are Royal Dutch Shell men, can quickly push Tarakan’s production up to its prewar average they will be able to deliver each month to the U.S. Navy as much crude oil as 15 of the biggest U.S. tankers, shuttling from California.

But any quantity of oil the Dutch can extract from Tarakan will help ease the strain on Pacific shipping. Last week in Manhattan Frank J. Taylor, president of the American Merchant Marine Institute, appraised the task of supplying our rapidly expanding forces in the Pacific. His estimate: exclusive of Navy needs, when our service personnel and fighting men reach a strength of 3,000,000, a fleet of 180 deep-laden tankers must sail from West Coast ports every month on the long, slow trek across the vast Pacific.

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