Digboi in Assam is an oil town that can be traced to the early 18th century, when oil was first discovered here. Digboi can proudly boast of two unique features: a 100-year-old extant oilfield and the world's oldest operating oil refinery.
The earliest recorded reference of oil in Assam can be traced to Lieut. R Wilcox of the 46th Regiment Native Infantry who saw it as" rising to the surface at Supkhong with great bubbling of gas and green petroleum in the book Memoir of a survey of Assam and the Neighboring Countries executed in 1825-6-7-8.
Barely seven years after Edwin L. Drake drilled the world's first oil well in 1859 at Titusville, Pennsylvania, USA, history registered another exploration of the black liquid gold, in the largest continent. In 1867, a large group of men were engaged in laying railway tracks for the Assam Railway and Trading Co. Ltd. in an area very close to what is now the town of Digboi. They had to work in the dense forest where the only visitors were animals, birds and insects. The place is said to have smelt of the rain: soaked forest mingled with a heavy odour of something that smelt like oil.
Legend has it that an elephant hauling logs from the forest returned with distinct traces of oil on its feet and trail. The excited owners of the elephant followed its footprints and found seepage of oil bubbling to the surface. Dig, boy, dig!, probably this is what the Englishman cried out to his men, hence the name Digboi. From that day, this tiny habitat, among the rolling hills of Assam found a place in the map of the worlds petroleum industry.
The first commercial discovery of crude oil in the country was, however, made in 1889 at Digboi when a group of men erected a 20 meter high thatch covered wooden structure, marking the establishment of the first well at Digboi (Well No. 1 or the Discovery well). Thereafter, systematic drilling began in 1891, and in 1901, Asia's first oil refinery was set. In the meantime the AOC (Assam Oil Company) was formed in 1899 to look after the running of the oil business in this area.
Today, though the production is very low, Digboi still has the distinction of being the worlds oldest continuously producing oilfield. Digboi oilfield is not another oilfield, but an oil museum with a history to be proud of.