MGS spending lifts Saudi downstream sector

15 March 2024


The selection of contractors by Saudi Aramco for its third expansion phase of the Master Gas System network (MGS-3) has galvanised Saudi Arabia’s midstream and downstream sectors.

Aramco has divided engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) works on the estimated $10bn MGS-3 project into 17 packages. The first two packages involve upgrading existing gas compression systems and installing new gas compressors. The 15 other packages relate to laying gas transport pipelines across various locations in the kingdom.

Aramco issued letters of intent in February to contractors for 16 EPC packages of the MGS-3 project. Some of the successful contractors have also confirmed their selection by Aramco.

The original Master Gas System (MGS) was built in the 1970s and commissioned in 1982. Since then, Aramco has been supplying natural gas to its customers across Saudi Arabia via the network, mainly channelling associated gas from Ghawar and other oil fields.

Over the past decade, amid rising gas demand from Saudi Arabia’s industrial and household sectors, Aramco has undertaken projects to increase its non-associated gas production. It launched the second expansion phase of the MGS in 2015.

Looking ahead, contractors have expressed interest in participating in the main EPC tendering process for package 16 of the MGS-3 project, which is the only EPC package not to be tendered by Aramco out of the 17 packages. The scope of work on package 16 covers the laying of a gas transport pipeline network of more than 50 kilometres in and around Jeddah.

The completion of the EPC tendering exercise – from solicitations of interest to the selection of contractors – for a scheme of the scale of MGS-3 within a year’s time underscores the commitment of Aramco, and of the Saudi government, to ensuring the steady growth of the kingdom’s gas sector.

Moreover, as Amin Nasser, president and CEO of Aramco, has said: “The recent directive from the government to maintain our maximum sustainable capacity [of oil production] at 12 million barrels a day provides increased flexibility, as well as an opportunity to focus on increasing gas production and growing our liquids-to-chemicals business.”

Liquids-to-chemicals ambition

Saudi Arabia is striving to become one of the world’s largest petrochemicals producers by the end of this decade. Its global liquids-to-chemicals programme involves expanding its portfolio of petrochemicals assets both at home and abroad.

State enterprise Aramco, along with its petrochemicals-producing subsidiary Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic), have been tasked with establishing 10-11 large mixed-feed crackers by 2030. These petrochemicals crackers, which include greenfield developments and expansions of existing facilities, will be built both in Saudi Arabia and in overseas markets.

Aramco’s global liquids-to-chemicals programme aims to convert 4 million barrels a day (b/d) of its oil production into high-value petrochemicals and chemicals feedstocks by 2030.

With a total capital expenditure by Aramco and Sabic of up to $100bn, it is the Middle East and North Africa’s largest petrochemicals spending programme ever, and will generate a significant amount of work for consultants and contractors in the run-up to 2030.

Aramco has divided its liquids-to-chemicals programme in Saudi Arabia into four main projects. It took a major step forward in September by appointing project management consultants (PMC) for the different segments of the investment scheme.

Aramco has selected US firm KBR, France’s Technip Energies, UK-based Wood Group and Australia-headquartered Worley to provide PMC services for the four projects, which include: 

  • Project East (PMC 1) – involves converting the Saudi Aramco Jubail Refinery Company (Sasref) complex in Jubail into an integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex by adding a mixed-feed cracker. The project also involves building an ethane cracker that will draw feedstock from the Sasref refinery.
  • Project West (PMC 2) – involves converting the Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Company (Yasref) complex in Yanbu into an integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex through the addition of a mixed-feed cracker. Aramco and state-owned China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) signed a memorandum of understanding in October for joint investment in the project, known as the Yanbu Refinery+ project.
  • Project X (PMC 3) – involves converting the Saudi Aramco Mobil Refinery Company (Samref) complex in Yanbu into an integrated refinery and petrochemicals complex by building a mixed-feed cracker. 
  • Project RTC (PMC 4) – involves establishing a crude oil-to-chemicals (COTC) complex in Ras Al Khair in the Eastern Province. Sabic is a partner in the Ras Al Khair COTC project.

Saudi Aramco is expected to start a separate tendering exercise for the provision of front-end engineering and design (feed) services on the projects in the future. Feed contracts are scheduled to be awarded in 2024, while the main EPC contracts are due for award in 2025.

Desulphurisation investments

As more sulphur recovery projects come online in Saudi Arabia, several Aramco gas treatment and processing plants in the Eastern Province and around the kingdom will discharge increased volumes of sulphur.

Existing and planned sulphur-handling facilities in the Eastern Province may not be able to cope with the incremental volumes of sulphur generated by Aramco assets in the future.

The company has therefore planned to develop a grassroots sulphur-handling complex at Ras Al Khair port to meet this requirement. The planned complex will facilitate the receiving, formation, storage and export of molten sulphur.

To be built on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis, the proposed facility is set to come online by 2029. Aramco has gauged the interest of third-party investors in developing the project.

The Ras Al Khair project is understood to be the second such PPP scheme launched by Aramco in the desulphurisation domain. Aramco is undertaking desulphurisation initiatives in line with its environmental commitments and emissions-reduction targets.

Aramco is understood to be close to awarding the build-own-operate-transfer contract for a major project that involves modifying and upgrading sulphur recovery units at seven of its gas processing plants in the Eastern Province, by building tail gas treatment units.

Two consortiums are competing for the multibillion-dollar PPP scheme, with Aramco expected to award the main contract later this year.
Indrajit Sen
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