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20140205 Upcoming Visit to an Oil Field

A Little History

Shaybah Oil Field is a major crude oil production site in Saudi Arabia, close to the United Arab Emirates border, see A in enclosed map. It was developed during the 1990s - the crude oil being introduced into the pipeline on July 2 1998, at an initial rate of 200,000 bpd (barrels per day). It is located in the extremely harsh desert environment of the Rub’ al-Khali or Empty Quarter.  The facilities, airstrip and oil wells are all located in sabkhas, gray salt flats tucked amongst immense orange dune mountains.

The weather is extreme, with temperatures dropping to 10 degrees on winter nights, and rising to around 50 degrees Celsius during the summer days. 

Sand dunes
The sand dunes are higher than 300 meters and presented serious challenges during development.  The task included moving 30 million cubic meters of sand, to construct the facilities, which include:

·       Residential and industrial facilities

·       Three gas-oil separation plants (GOSPs)

·       A 640 kilometer pipeline to transport the crude oil to the Abqaiq plants

·       A Boeing-737 capable airport

·       A 400 Kilometer road through the desert.

The Personal Perspective

This is an exciting field adventure for me as I get to fly on one of the corporate jets and it is by invitation only. I’ll get to fly over the really vast, empty desert (Rub’ al-Khali) where nobody lives.  There are only a handful of women going and we can try sled-boarding on the sand dunes, visit a tent oasis and have dinner in the desert before flying back to Dammam on the Gulf. We’ll visit an oil processing station too. Very few people get this opportunity to see that part of Arabia. I figure while I’m here I’ll try and cover as much as I can get into. 

Last night I got lost out walking by myself and it took me an hour to get home in the dark. Everything looks the same when you’re on a patch of sand! At one point I was surrounded by feral cats making a terrible noise and it was creepy. I found a little dove that was in some distress and not looking well. I moved it to under some plants to see if it could survive there away from the wild cats. Poor little creature. The wild cats here are a nuisance. They caterwaul at night and are bold and fearless.

It’s hard to get a taxi as they are always booked up in the evening. The buses stop running from the base to the shops at 5PM and the last bus home is 7PM. Women can’t drive outside the compound, not even on a bicycle.  The compound is vast with over 13,000 people, plus all the day workers who do the maintenance and live off-site. I can’t imagine what their lives are like, as they come from very poor countries to slog here for very little (by our standards). An education makes the whole difference to lifestyle. I’m grateful I have this opportunity to earn well and see a part of the world that few get to experience.

I hope this finds you well and I’ll write again soon.

Wee Shufti