The successful discovery of offshore oil in the 1970s triggered a fresh development boom in Miri; luxury hotels were built, more houses constructed and new shopping centres and industrial estates established. Miri ranked as the second most important commercial centre in Sarawak after Kuching.
The earliest officially recorded oil find in Malaysia was made in July 1882 by the British Resident of the Baram district in Sarawak. The oil was used by the local residents for medicinal purposes and later for lighting lamps and waterproofing boats. Commercial exploitation only began in 1910 when the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company, the forerunner of the present Sarawak Shell which was granted the sole right to explore for petroleum in Sarawak, struck oil in the town of Miri, marking the start of the Malaysian petroleum industry. The Miri’s success encouraged further attempts to discover other onshore fields. However, only traces of petroleum were found, and these were not large enough to justify drilling activities.
Consequently, by the 1950s, attention turned to the seas. This was made possible by new improvements in offshore petroleum technology. Marine seismic surveys were carried out for the first time in Sarawak in 1954. The shift offshore began to show results in 1962 with the discovery of oil in two areas offshore Sarawak. Other finds followed in rapid succession.
Oil development began to decline in the middle 1980s as development moved from the onshore wells to offshore facilities. It is by this time that Miri began developing its tourism and service industry.
In 1989, the vision for Miri to become a city was mooted. The proposal received the blessing of Sarawak state government in 1993. A public forum was held in 1994 and a grand signature-collecting campaign was organised in 2004 and more than one-third of the population in Miri had put down their signatures in supporting the government’s efforts for Miri to obtain city status. Miri has the city blue-print being drawn up in early 2000s and the government together with private sectors had managed to fulfill the Federal Government’s ten main criteria of becoming a city. The Sarawak State Government approved the then Miri Municipal Council’s application for Miri to be elevated to a city and concurrently the Council to be upgraded as Miri City Council on 20/5/2004. The Federal Government approved its application on 16/3/2005. His Excellency, the head of the State of Sarawak made an Order on 12/5/2005 on the establishment of Miri City Council. The King of Malaysia, Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong XII issued the Instrument for conferrment of city status of name Miri City Council on Miri Municipal Council with full jurisdiction on Miri City on 13/5/2005. The appointment of Mayor, Deputy Mayor and City Councillors of Miri City Council was published on Sarawak Government Gazette on 19/5/2005. On 20th May 2005, the official proclamation of Miri City and appointment of Cr. Dato Wee Han Wen as first Mayor of Miri City Council were held at Miri and this was then followed by city day celebration. Now, 20th May is the Miri City Day.