Aramco focus: Shaybah Expansion Project
Production will soon increase by 250,000 bpd at onshore oilfield
By Stephen L. Brundage
As the finishing touches are applied to the Shaybah Expansion Project, the facility’s Arab Extra Light oil production is set to increase by a quarter-million barrels per day. The four-year construction project added a gas-oil separation plant (GOSP) and expanded gas compression injection facilities and power generation as well as the pipelines to transport the crude.
For Saudi Aramco Project Management employees and those from other organizations training along with the company’s partners, the construction project has been a whirlwind of activity.
The moon rises over the Shaybah dunes, as the Shaybah Expansion Project lights up for the night.
The utilities area is seen here under construction for the Shaybah Expansion Project.
“We started in 2005, and we faced multiple challenges, starting with the market conditions and the number of projects to be run at the same time — Khursaniyah, Khurais, Hawiyah,” said Bader A. Dulaimi, general supervisor of the Capital Program Optimization Division, who earlier served as project manager for Shaybah.
The building boom required that the company seek innovative solutions. “We were challenged to find qualified contractors to run this project to our objectives and plans,” Dulaimi said. Four new international contractors were introduced, but that meant bringing them up to speed on Saudi Aramco systems and expectations.
Dulaimi said the team’s goal wasn’t just to add to the existing facilities but to modernize them.
“We didn’t start from scratch. We took the old design and started to work with Operations and got their lessons learned from the day they started up the old plant to the day we started the new design,” he said.
They devised solutions to all the issues faced in the old design, and they scoured the market for the latest technologies to improve processes. Among them were a new flaring system and a new, more efficient way to strip hydrogen sulfide gas, along with new communication technology.
Shaybah is spread over 130 subkhas, or salt flats, separated by massive dunes of red sand that tower above them, which can make communication difficult.
“The terrain at Shaybah is very challenging,” said Abdulrahim M. Anwah, lead project engineer for communications. “Signals tend to fade or be obstructed by the sand dunes. That makes Shaybah very unique and difficult at the same time.”
The transmission network was expanded to four times its previous scope. Three radio sites were placed on dunes, and a new radio-by-fiber-optic technology provided some subkhas with communication.
One enhancement that every Shaybah Producing employee will enjoy is expanded cellular-phone coverage, which until now has been available only in the Residential and Industrial Complex, Anwah said. It was extended to GOSP No. 4 and GOSP No. 2. “We have extended it so all four GOSPs have coverage. Now, if you lose radio for some reason, you also have the cell phones as a backup.”
On any Saudi Aramco project, safety is as important as any schedule or deadline. To ensure the best results in the Shaybah Expansion, safety considerations extended far beyond the construction sites.
“Here in Shaybah it is truly remote. You have to take a plane or drive from 12-14 hours to get here,” said Zaki S. Hallaq who served as safety engineer for the project. “We did whatever it took to get (workers) to rest and be able to be stress-free so they could have a good attitude and enjoy their time after work.”
Capitalizing on Shaybah’s existing recreation facilities and common areas, construction workers had a variety of after-work activities from which to select, including weekend soccer and basketball tournaments, exercise rooms and majlis rooms, where friends could join to watch big-screen televisions.
Internet connections were provided, and dozens of television channels offered programs from around the globe.
“We provided these things, and it was interesting to see how the workers would adapt them and make them fun. The workers would look forward to the weekends because there were choices about things to do. If you have a boring weekend, you’re likely to have a boring week; if you have a good weekend, you’re more likely to have a good week,” Hallaq said.
Construction traffic also required project managers to look at Shaybah’s road grid and the long, desolate highway that links the facility to the rest of the world. “When the contractors started to mobilize and truck deliveries started, we had to look at the roadways,” Hallaq said. “We widened roads between the contractor camps and the new GOSP and installed lighting.”
Self-contained, solar-powered streetlights were employed to light the way, Anwah said. “Now I’m getting a lot of calls from other projects that are considering the lighting for their areas.”
All of these factors combined to form the basis of the Shaybah Expansion Project’s completion and are a source of pride for the thousands of people whose work made it a reality.
“The way of constructing buildings and the value engineering we conducted for this plant resulted in tremendous savings and optimization,” Dulaimi said. “What we did in Shaybah was nothing different than is done in other projects. Operations and other organizations supported us from Day One. They gave us their best.”
“Projects in general are an exciting experience because you design something and get to see it built,” said Nazeeh A. Kureea, a senior project engineer who later became project manager.
People worked long hours, even without being asked. That gave young engineers a chance to focus on the work and work alongside senior engineers. “The whole Shaybah society is so close that even after we worked together all day, we gathered at night and discussed the work,” he said.
Kureea credited management for making sure workers were prepared and had the proper awareness to get the job done. “Whether you look at it from a safety perspective, quality, schedule or completing a project of this magnitude, the people who were involved in it were the reason for its success.”