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Saudi Arabia launches crude expansion plan - quietly

01 Jun 2017 16:46 (+01:00 GMT)
Saudi Arabia launches crude expansion plan - quietly

London, 1 June (Argus) — State-owned Saudi Aramco has quietly embarked on an upstream expansion project that could provide up to 1.5mn b/d of new capacity from five offshore fields. But the company has declined to release information on the projects, and start-up dates are unknown.

The move comes ahead of an initial listing of around 5pc of the company next year.

Aramco has awarded a five-year preliminary design and management services contract to engineering company Amec Foster Wheeler, involving a 300,000 b/d expansion of the Marjan field in the Mideast Gulf, off Saudi Arabia's eastern coast. The project includes building a 300,000 b/d gas/oil separation plant, a gas processing plant and cogeneration facility, and modifications to an existing facility to add natural gas liquids fractionation capacity.

The Marjan project is part of a wider plan that also includes increments at the 500,000 b/d Zuluf and the Safaniya offshore fields, according to one executive from an oil engineering company working in Saudi Arabia. But Aramco has not announced the overall capacity that it expects to develop under the plan, and has declined to comment on the project. The three fields produce Arab Medium crude.

In 2008, then oil minister Ali Naimi revealed a plan for a 900,000 b/d increment at Zuluf, but gave no date for when it would be implemented, and it is still unclear if the Zuluf project that is getting underway will be that large.

Canadian company SNC-Lavalin says it has won an engineering and project management services contract for a 250,000 b/d expansion at the 300,000 b/d Berri oil field, which straddles Saudi Arabia's northeastern coast, lying both offshore and onshore, producing Arab Extra Light crude.

The Canadian firm will design a new 250,000 b/d gas/oil separation plant at the already existing Abu Ali gas plant, and additional facilities at the Khursaniyah gas plant to process 40,000 b/d of condensate as part of the Berri crude expansion. The design work is expected to be completed by August 2018.

If the Zuluf increment is as large as the 900,000 b/d envisaged in 2008, the total offshore expansion on which Aramco is embarking will total at least 1.5mn b/d.

The five offshore fields to be expanded — Safaniya, Marjan, Zuluf, Abu Safah and Berri — together produce around 20pc of Saudi Arabia's output, which came to an average 9.9mn b/d in the first four months of this year as the country implemented cuts of 490,000 b/d as its contribution to the Opec and non-Opec campaign to speed market rebalancing.

Saudi Arabia's oil minister Khalid al-Falih sidestepped a question about the planned crude upstream expansions on the sidelines of the 25 May Opec meeting, simply saying that Saudi Arabia's overall capacity of 12.5mn b/d will remain unchanged, and that Aramco is continuing to maintain its fields.

Despite pledges to increase transparency ahead of next year's IPO, Aramco remains tight-lipped about its upstream crude projects.

Al-Falih did say that the 300,000 b/d Khurais expansion is nearing completion and will come on stream next year, but Saudi Arabia is also not referring to it as a net expansion project.

Aramco has kept its crude capacity steady at 12.5mn b/d since 2009, and has considered upstream expansions, such as at the 900,000 b/d heavy oil offshore Manifa oil field, which came on stream in 2009, and the 250,000 b/d Arabian Extra Light increment at Shyabah that came on stream in 2016, taking the field's capacity to 1mn b/d, as projects to maintain capacity and offset decline elsewhere.