EASTERN WILDCATS

Myanmar’s development means the end of the DIY oil prospector

Foreign oil companies are lining up to tap resource-rich Myanmar’s undeveloped energy sector, with sanctions lifted and the government encouraging an investment “gold rush.” But transforming parts of the oil industry by introducing modern-day equipment could affect one unique group of workers: the independent prospectors who drill for crude by hand.

Thousands of workers in the country extract crude manually, or with simple machines, and sell it to refiners. The 26-year-old pictured above earns about $30 per day pumping oil from a 300-foot-deep well in central Myanmar.

Selling crude. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj)

The area has attracted scores of people who live in communities and tap oil fields abandoned by the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. The work is dangerous, and operators say they’re often forced to bribe local officials to stay in business. Some reports say the lawless areas are also plagued by drugs, crime, and prostitution.

Ko Min, 26, manually extracts oil from one of three 300 feet deep wells he works on in the Minhla township of the Magwe district October 27, 2013. Everyday, Ko Min makes around $30 extracting crude oil from three small wells after he bought rights to use them for close to $1000 from a farmer who owns the land. In Myanmar, an impoverished country rich with natural resources, people from poor communities find ways to supplement their income by exploiting such resources, such as the Minhla township, traditionally rich with oil, often using primitive and dangerous methods. Picture taken October 27, 2013.    REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT ENERGY) - RTX14TE3
Extracting oil. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj)

It’s “likely the 11th hour” for such workers, John Dale, an anthropologist and Myanmar expert at George Mason University, told National Geographic. “It will be interesting to go back in six months and see if they are still there.”

A woman carries a canister of clean water through the mud of an oil field in the Minhla township of the Magwe district October 27, 2013. In Myanmar, an impoverished country rich with natural resources, people from poor communities find ways to supplement their income by exploiting such resources, such as the Minhla township, traditionally rich with oil, often using primitive and dangerous methods. Picture taken October 27, 2013.    REUTERS/Damir Sagolj (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY ENERGY BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTX14TF7
Carrying water. (Reuters/Damir Sagolj)

For the workers’ sake, it seems modernization can’t come fast enough.

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