Baba Gurgur (Arabic: بابا كركر‎, Kurdish: Bawa gurgur, Turkish: Babe gurgur) is a large oil field near the city of Kirkuk which was the first to be discovered in Northern Iraq in 1927.

It was considered the largest oil field in the world until the discovery of the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia in 1948. Baba Gurgur is located 16 kilometers northwest of Arrapha and is famous for its Eternal Fire (Arabic: النار الازلية‎) located at the middle of its oil fields.

Eternal Fire

The Eternal Fire of Baba Gurgur (father of fire in Kurdish) is a name used to describe the flames of the Baba Gurgur oil field. It is estimated that the burning flames have been around for more than 4,000 years. The Eternal Fire was first described by Herodotus[citation needed] and also has been described by other ancient Greek authors such as Plutarch. Many believe the Eternal Fire to be the same Fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel, chapter 3 in the Tanakh (Old Testament) into which King Nebuchadnezzar (ca. 630-562 BC), King of Babylon threw 3 Jews for refusing to worship his golden idol.[1] It has a significant symbolic value for residents of Kirkuk. The burning flames are the result of an emission of natural gas through cracks in the Baba Gurgur area’s rocks. The environment near the eternal fire is saturated with hydrogen sulfide, which caused the authorities to put signs for the tourists and visitors not to stay too close or too long and to be in the direction opposite to the wind current[citation needed]. It is believed that the heat of the eternal flames was used by shepherds to warm their flocks during winter. [1] Women visit Baba Gurgur, asking to have a baby boy. This ancient practice probably goes back to the time of fire worshipping.

Oil Strike

Kirkuk district, an oil gusher spouting

In 1927, an oil well was spudded in at Baba Gurgur by the Turkish Petroleum Company (the forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company). Oil was struck at 3 a.m. on 15 October 1927 and a great fountain of oil spurted over the crown of the derrick to a height of 42 metres. It was clear that the company had a major environmental crisis on its hands with oil being sprayed and falling in billowy clouds to the ground, threatening the local inhabitants whose properties stood in danger of being destroyed; and there was a great risk of water supplies being polluted. The oil well had been sited in a depression that carried water off the low foothills to the open desert, and the oil was escaping down this wadi.

The surrounding villages, and Kirkuk itself, were at risk of being drowned in a deluge of crude oil. Being unable to stop the flow immediately, the problem for the Company was how to contain the oil. Eventually it was decided to commence building dams in the wadi (known as Wadi Naft) at distances of about 1.5 kilometres apart and a piece of low ground was selected about 24 kilometres away from the well location which it was calculated could be easily dammed to hold several weeks of production from the well. It was estimated that 2,000 men would be required to build the dams. Men from the Jubur tribe scattered down the Zab river settlements, and the Obaid tribe on the Hawija plain, were soon converging on Kirkuk. Vehicles collected a few of the men but the main body walked the whole way, in some cases of distances up to 60 kilometres.

A blue mist formed at night in the hollows of the low hills caused by gas pockets. One night the poisonous effects of gas collecting in a depression killed two drillers and three Iraqi workers. The risk of fire was ever-present as for hundreds of metres around everything was smothered in oil. Men were working in gas masks almost naked in an endeavour to get near enough to set up some control appliances. The oil fell evenly in clouds all around the derrick and draw-works due to the windless autumn days. At length the cloud of oil was blown away from the derrick to allow work to start on the well head. This was achieved by setting up an aero engine which, when started, created the necessary draught to clear one side of the derrick.

It took ten days from the first eruption to close the control valve and shut off the supply of oil. By the time the well was capped, over 95,000 barrels of oil a day had spewed into the desert. But the approaching rainy season raised the spectre of another disaster: if the rains came and the wadi flooded, the oil would be carried down to the river and pollute water supplies across the whole country. Pumps were urgently installed to pump the oil back into the wells, but they made little impression. Desperate to remove the oil, large quantities were set alight. When the rains came the area was clear of oil. Work on clearing up the area was completed by Christmas Day 1927.[2]