Becht targets Middle East for expansion

2 May 2023

US-headquartered engineering services company Becht is pushing to significantly expand its presence in the Middle East to take advantage of opportunities in the region’s energy sector, according to Chris Van der Beek, director of Becht for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“We already have a local agency partner in the UAE and are in discussions with potential agency partners in Saudi Arabia and Oman,” said Van der Beek.

The company has active contracts across the Middle East and expects to win more contracts from existing clients as well as new clients.

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, Becht is active in the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Algeria and Egypt.

“We have grown our services over recent years,” said Van der Beek. “The services we offer have increasing width and depth and we would like our existing clients to use more of our capabilities.

“That is our first focus. Our second focus is adding new clients.”

Long-term agreements

Historically, the company has provided consultancy services to refineries, petrochemical facilities and power stations in the field of engineering solutions and the use of plant equipment, including cranes and other heavy machinery.

Over the years, it has built on this offering to add consultancy services in supply chain optimisation, crude optimisation and margin optimisation.

Becht is now also providing its clients with digital answers and solutions focused on adapting to the global energy transition.

“We provide solutions and build long-term relationships, and with most of our companies, we will have a long-term technical service agreement,” said Van der Beek.

“Under this, we will help them with both small and larger questions as well as small and large projects.”

We believe that, by 2050, there is still going to be oil and gas around as well as a wide range of energy transition projects and this will mean a lot of work for companies like us

Market share

It is possible that Becht’s pursuit of expansion in the Mena region could result in it gaining significant market share in some countries.

It is already well established in North America, with more than 95 per cent of the refineries in the US and Canada on Becht’s roster of clients.

“Our consultancy contracts cover high-value technical engineering work for projects from cradle to grave, whether it is a project that is being developed or a facility that is already operational,” said Van der Beek.

“The clients are normally companies that can run and maintain a facility, but if something happens, such as a process not working optimally or a safety issue, then we can help to investigate that and help with solutions.”

Saudi Arabia is currently Becht’s biggest market in the Middle East in terms of active contracts, followed by the UAE and Oman.

The company mainly works on refining and petrochemical projects, but is also focused on natural gas plants, ammonia facilities and hydrogen projects.

“Our company has a very diverse offering that we believe will take advantage of a lot of growth areas in the region,” said Van der Beek.

“In Saudi, we have two large petrochemical companies as clients and our work includes carrying out engineering work for mechanical and technical improvements for facilities.

“In both cases, the work is focused on an already operational asset. When they run into reliability issues or other types of issues, we are there to assist.

“Often, they don’t have the very specific knowledge that is needed to solve certain projects in-house.

“Sometimes the technology supplier doesn’t even have the knowledge, but we can help them overcome these problems with detailed designs and advice about better equipment and materials to solve problems.”

Skills gap

Much of the engineering work conducted by Becht is done remotely, but it also sends out teams to visit projects and gather data.

The company has around 1,500 specialist consultants, most of whom have experience working as experts for oil and gas majors such as Shell, Exxon, BP and Total.

During 2022 and 2023, there has been a surge in large infrastructure project contract awards in the Mena region, leading to increased demand for skilled engineers.

Last year, more than $30bn-worth of contracts were awarded by oil, gas and petrochemicals producers in the Middle East and North Africa, according to regional projects tracker MEED Projects.

Gulf energy producers and petrochemicals manufacturers have leveraged high oil and gas prices to push through big-ticket projects. Yet project operators and service providers have not fully restored their workforces since laying off people during the pandemic, putting their existing resources under stress.

Van der Beek sees the skills crunch in the Mena region as a big opportunity for his company.

“A lot of companies are struggling to attract new talent to their firms,” he said. “We can supply the expertise and knowledge needed to help their full-time inexperienced staff.

“We can step in and solve problems and we can also help companies by offering coaching and physical training on-site to help people grow their skills.”

With the world population growing and rising standards of living in Asia, we expect increased demand for petrochemical products

Energy sector outlook

Van der Beek believes there will be significant opportunities in both the oil and gas sector and in energy transition projects up to 2050.

“We have been looking at the global situation and the heavy growth in population of 1.7 billion people by 2050 and the speed of the energy transition,” he said.

“We believe that, by 2050, there is still going to be oil and gas around as well as a wide range of energy transition projects and this will mean a lot of work for companies like us.”

Becht expects petrochemicals to be a big growth area in Saudi Arabia over the next decade.

“Amid the energy transition, there is going to be lower demand for fuels, so the molecules will be used for other purposes, and one of the logical ones is chemicals,” said Van der Beek.

“With the world population growing and rising standards of living in Asia, we expect increased demand for petrochemical products.”

Saudi opportunities

Becht expects the Middle East to be either its number one growth region over the mid-term or second after the Asia Pacific.

“Downstream businesses, and the global oil and gas sector in general, are recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic, so there is a lot of growth in different regions, but the Middle East remains specifically important for us,” said Van der Beek.

“If you are driving around Saudi Arabia in the Jubail area, there are tens of kilometres with only refineries and chemical plants. It’s so huge. There is a wealth of opportunities for us in the country.

“However, we don’t see our growth in Saudi as something that will happen overnight. We want to grow our relationships there and we intend to take this slowly and prove ourselves through the quality of our work.

“We are going to invest time and resources and grow in a controlled way to maintain that quality.”

Becht hopes to sign several broad technical service contracts with companies in Saudi Arabia in the coming months.

The areas where it hopes to sign the contracts include process support, engineering support, asset integrity and turnaround optimisation.

Van der Beek says his company is not actively investing resources in winning new work across the whole of the Mena region, although the firm is willing to evaluate potential projects in most markets.

“The volume of activity that we are seeing in countries such as Saudi Arabia means that we have to choose carefully which markets to invest our business development resources in,” he said.

According to Van der Beek, Becht sees its expansion strategy in the Middle East as a marathon rather than a sprint. It is focusing on competing with other companies on the high standards that it delivers, rather than putting all of its efforts into offering the lowest bid prices.

He believes that his company’s focus on quality ensures that existing clients become repeat customers and helps to form a solid foundation for sustainable growth.
Wil Crisp
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