Saudi chemical ambitions define Mena downstream sector

28 December 2023


Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its ambition 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 petrochemical assets both at home and abroad.

State enterprise Saudi Aramco and its petrochemicals-producing subsidiary Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) have been tasked with establishing 10-11 large mixed-feed crackers by 2030. These petrochemical crackers, which include greenfield developments and expansions of existing facilities, will be built in both Saudi Arabia and 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 chemical 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 petrochemical capital expenditure programme ever, and will generate a robust volume 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 this massive petrochemicals investment scheme.

Aramco has selected the US’ 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 (MoU) 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.

The Saudi energy giant 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.

Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline

Progress on a cross-country pipeline spanning 13 states is bound to be slow. But the geopolitical importance and economic benefits of the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project have ensured that the parties involved continue to make things tick.

The project’s total cost is estimated at a mammoth $25bn. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was reported in April to be preparing to invest $12.5bn to secure a 50 per cent equity stake in the project.

The project will extend for 5,600 kilometres, originating in Nigeria and passing through Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania before terminating in Morocco.

It will connect to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline and the European gas network. The landlocked states of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali will also come under the purview of the pipeline.

The countries signed an MoU with Morocco’s National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines in December 2022. Morocco will host 1,672km of the pipeline. 

The first phase of the feed work has been completed, and the second phase of the feed is under way.

Kuwait petrochemicals

There has been little movement, meanwhile, on Kuwait’s Al-Zour petrochemicals complex, although state-owned Kuwait Integrated Petroleum Industries Company (Kipic) is continuing with feasibility studies on the estimated $10bn project.

The operator has not made a final investment decision (FID) on the project and has not revealed a schedule for when it will be approved and tendered.

The fact that Kipic is conducting more feasibility studies on the products the facility should produce is likely to exacerbate concerns that an overhaul of its scope is being considered. This would lead to a long delay before the main contracts are tendered. 

The Al-Zour petrochemicals project was first announced in 2006. The planned complex will be integrated with the Al-Zour refinery, which has a nameplate capacity of 615,000 b/d, and was commissioned recently.

Abu Dhabi LNG project

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc Group) is advancing towards an FID on its planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in Ruwais Industrial City in Abu Dhabi’s Al-Dhafrah region.

The LNG export terminal will have the capacity to produce about 9.6 million tonnes a year (t/y) of LNG from two processing trains, each with a capacity of 4.8 million t/y. The facility will ship LNG mainly to key Asian markets, such as Pakistan, India, China, South Korea and Japan. 

The overall value of the planned project is estimated to be more than $4.5bn, based on capital expenditure by operators on similar schemes worldwide.

Consortiums of contractors submitted technical bids for the Ruwais LNG terminal project by the deadline of 31 May.

Commercial bids for the project are due to be submitted by the end of 2023, with the award of the engineering, procurement and construction contract expected within the first quarter of 2024.

Upstream sector sees record year
Indrajit Sen
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