Kuala Lumpur - A Piece of Asia

Although sited a long way from Malaysia’s oil and gas producing regions, the vibrant, exciting city of Kuala Lumpur is the centre of the country’s hydrocarbon industry, as it is home to Petronas, the National Oil Company
This article appeared in Vol. 9, No. 1 - 2012


The 88-storey glass and steel Petronas Towers are located in the heart of the city of Kuala Lumpur. They contain more than eight million square feet of shopping and entertainment facilities, underground parking for 4,500 cars, a petroleum museum, a symphony hall, a mosque, a multimedia conference centre – and the headquarters of the National Oil Company, Petronas. Source: Bruce Winslade Kuala Lumpur is a fascinating mix between old and new, from historical sites to cutting edge architecture, with some of the largest skyscrapers in Asia. But it is the cultural diversity that gives the city its soul. Malays, Chinese, Indian migrants and British colonials have all put their mark on the city, making a visit to Kuala Lumpur – or KL, as it is commonly known – all the more interesting.

KL is a city that has something to offer everyone, from history, cuisine, shopping and culture to exotic nightlife. In the charming older parts of the city, the streets are narrow, winding between the old unique colonial style and Chinese inspired buildings. Talking a walk through the streets of this part of town is a must. The small shops and cafes, the sounds and exotic smells combined with the hectic life of the locals are thrilling – just be sure to bring a map with you. It is easy to get lost… Tin Excavation to Modern Capital

The city of Kuala Lumpur was founded in 1857, when members of the Selangor Royal Family settled between the rivers of Gombak and Klang, and opened up the Klang Valley for tin prospectors. A mine was opened, and with it came other settlers building up the trade around the small settlement. At the time the British ruled in Malaysia, and they appointed a Chinese Captain to govern the town. Under Captain Hiu Siew, Kuala Lumpur grew to become the leading city of Selangor, and in 1880 it was made the capital. After Malaysia became independent from British rule in 1957, Kuala Lumpur remained its capital.

In the late 1870s oil was discovered in the territories of the island of Borneo, in what is now Malaysia. The Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company received the first petroleum concession in 1909, and commercial amounts of oil were discovered late in 1910, in Miri, Sarawak. Oil production from the Miri field was limited until after World War II, as the installations were severely damaged by bombings during the war. In the years after the war, Shell and Esso dominated upstream and downstream production, but by the beginning of the 1970s, the economic and political tides were changing. With war in the Middle East and the OPEC embargo, oil prices were increasing, and this became a major incentive for the Malaysian government to increase their control over the oil business and its profits.

The Foundation of Petronas

As a result, the National Oil Company of Malaysia, Petronas, was founded in 1974. The head office was located in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, on the west coast of the Malay Peninsula, even though the bulk of the country’s hydrocarbon reserves are to be found either in the Malay Basin off the east coast or the waters off Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo.

Petramina, the National Oil Company in Indonesia, became a close supporter in Petronas’ first years. It contributed with technical assistance and other support that has shaped the governance and development of the oil industry in Malaysia. Petronas was run by Malays from the beginning, and has become a symbol of pride, an example of a successful Bumiputra-run company (Bumiputra is a Malay term for the indigenous people of the Malay Archipelago.) From the beginning Petronas wanted to be seen as a real, commercial player, making a profit and contributing to the growth of the Malaysian economy.

One of the major challenges for Petronas in the 1970s was access to qualified engineers from Malaysia, so the company launched scholarship programs to encourage Malaysians to get degrees within engineering disciplines. The strategy has paid off, and in the 70s and 80s the company expanded its operations into upstream and downstream industry. With the founding of the exploration and production arm Carigali Corporation in 1978, it become a major player in oil and gas exploration; in 1981 it expanded into the retail gasoline business, and in 1983 the first oil refinery was opened in Kertih, Terengganu. By this time, the oil and gas industry had become the most important revenue source for the Malaysian government, contributing significantly to the modernisation of Kuala Lumpur and the whole of Malaysia. The country’s oil reserves are the third highest in the Asia-Pacific region after China and India.

Modernising KL

Batu Caves are located about 13 kms north of Kuala Lumpur. It is a Hindu shrine, and it hosts the Hindu festival Thaipusam, a Tamil celebration held in January/February. It has become a pilgrimage site for Hindus from countries such as India, Australia and Singapore. Source: Ingvild Carstens The real modernisation of KL started in the 1990s with the economic boom. Some of today’s most important landmarks have been built since then, and a lot of the historical buildings of the city have had to give way to new residential buildings, shopping centres and office buildings.

And dominating the skyline are the Petronas Towers, which at the time they were built were the tallest buildings in the world, standing 452m high. The design of these dramatic towers, by American architect Cesar Pelli, was an attempt to express the culture and heritage of Malaysia through references to Islamic symbols and Muslim architecture, and these iconic buildings have now come to represent modern Malaysia


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