Last summer the management of the Arabian American Oil Company decided to bring the offshore Manifa oil field in Saudi Arabia into production. This is how Aramco went about the job, a large-scale engineering and construction project that will not be completed until early 1964.
Many skills were needed. Aramco engineers were assigned to the project, and technical specialists in a number of countries were assembled into a temporary project team. By Christmas they will have broken ranks, as it were, and gone on to other ventures; Manifa will be ready to go on stream. Probably the most pertinent thing to be said about how to bring in an oil field is that it isn't easy—you can only succeed by trying.
Aramco had already had considerable experience in putting oil fields into production, both onshore and offshore, when it tackled Manifa, which lies adjacent to the eastern shore of Saudi Arabia. Ghawar, Aramco's most famous field, has remaining proved reserves of about 27 billion barrels of crude oil and thus stands in the front rank of the world's great oil discoveries. Another Aramco field, Safaniya, is the world's largest offshore reservoir. So, whatever problems lay ahead at Manifa, Aramco had undoubtedly tackled them in one form or another.
The decision of the Aramco management to place Manifa in production was announced in July 1962. (A look behind the scenes into the many factors that Aramco had to weigh in developing Manifa was given in "Manifa: Profile of A Decision," Aramco World, June/July 1963.) The field's wildcat well—Manifa No. 1—had discovered oil four years earlier, in 1958. Six more wells had then been drilled to delineate the area and depth of the field. In 1960, the first phase of the delineation was completed.
An oil field in Saudi Arabia goes into production with a pre-determined number of wells. The initial production at Manifa will flow from eight wells. Of the seven wells drilled at Manifa during wildcatting delineation, five were suited to Aramco's production plans; two were not. An additional three wells needed to put the field in production will be drilled in late 1963.
The new wells were part of the extensive inventory of requirements for Manifa at the time the company decided to produce the field. There is need of an impressive array of facilities to carry Manifa s crude from the field to Aramco's marine terminal and to process the crude for handling and tanker shipment.
The offshore requirements include three production tie-in platforms standing in the waters of the Persian Gulf. These platforms will gather crude flow from individual wells before the oil enters an underwater trunkline leading to the shore. An underwater pipeline system consisting of a main trunkline and smaller-diameter lines to the individual wells will also be required. A variety of work boats will be needed to service the wells. The "existing fleet" assigned to the Safaniya field further north in the Gulf was considered sufficient to serve Manifa also.
The onshore requirements include a gas-oil separator plant; a pumping station to move the "separated" crude through a tie-in to an already-existing major pipeline system; electrification from Ras Tanura to Khursaniyah; and new, 3,000-horsepower pipeline booster pumps, which will be the largest electric motor-driven pumps ever installed in Saudi Arabia.
Manifa crude is sour; that is, it contains hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous and highly corrosive gas which must be removed in a stabilizer before it can be shipped in a tanker. Therefore, additional stabilization capacity will have to be constructed at Ras Tanura to handle the new production for export. Also, two 280,000-barrel storage tanks will be added at the marine terminal.
Such was the inventory of progress, and the inventory of requirements, at the time Aramco announced it would place Manifa in production. A tremendous job lay ahead. The decision to produce Manifa was the first step in a chain of events that would call upon the design, engineering and fabrication skills of many people in many countries. In the past Aramco's oil handling facilities have included components manufactured in Australia, Germany, Belgium, the United States, Switzerland, France, Japan, England, Holland and Italy.
The second step was to calculate the cost of the project and submit the proposed expenditures for the necessary approvals. At the same time, design and engineering groups proceeded with preliminary surveys for roads and pipelines. They also undertook wave studies in the Gulf off Manifa Bay and made bore tests for construction foundations at various sites.
Next, some preliminary design work on the facilities was done. The actual engineering drawings were prepared by contractors under the supervision of the Aramco Overseas Company in The Hague, Holland. During this preliminary work a project manager was assigned by Aramco to coordinate all aspects of the vast Manifa undertaking.
After management approval was given to place Manifa in production, critical path schedules for the project were completed on July 10, 1962.
These schedules are logistical master plans much like the famous "D-minus" plans used in military operations. D-days are assigned for the completion of each component, such as a pumping station, the gas-oil separator plant and the submarine pipeline system, of the project. Incremental deadlines are then set by subtracting a determined number of days from the D-day of each component. For example, it takes a certain number of days to ship pipeline pipe from a given port. The pipe must be at the port by D-day (its date of arrival in Saudi Arabia, say) minus the number of days it will be at sea.
During the time the critical path schedules were nearing completion, the preliminary designs for Manifa's facilities were being reviewed by Aramco experts. A project proposal meeting was then called to determine the exact location, as well as the capacity and other specifications, for each facility.
The project manager then solicited final design bids through the Aramco Overseas Company in The Hague. The design was completed in stages so that the fabrication of components could get under way as soon as possible. All final design was reviewed by specialist groups (instrumentation, processing, electrical) within Aramco, and inspection requirements were established. As each design stage was completed, purchase orders were placed with the successful bidders among the manufacturers. The design work took about nine months to complete.
During manufacturing the company carefully inspected every component. Some of the inspecting was done by Aramco personnel, and some was carried out for the company by specialist organizations under contract.
Slowly, a strange miscellany moved toward ports around the world. Special instruments, pipe, huge pumps, and the vessels and other components of processing units began to make their various ways to Saudi Arabia.
As has already been noted, Aramco purchases its supplies in many countries. In the past it maintained one of the world's most extensive purchasing networks. Today, Aramco buys one-third of all its supplies through Saudi Arab merchants who now import a wide range of consumer goods and industrial material.
About 50 per cent of all materials and supplies for the Manifa project is being obtained from local Saudi Arab sources. For example, the purchase from abroad of the pipe for the field's underwater gathering system was handled by local merchants in the cities of Dammam and al-Khobar. An independent Saudi Arab contractor established a new plant in the Dammam area designed to apply wrapping and special cement coating to the pipe in order to give it vital protection against corrosion and the necessary weight to anchor it.
When the first components for Manifa were being fabricated earlier this year in distant factories, Aramco began to gear up in Saudi Arabia for a big construction program. Manpower estimates were prepared, and the company opened negotiations with Saudi Arab contractors.
Several contracts were made also with world-wide service organizations skilled in oil industry construction, and a contract was made with one construction company to provide experts to supervise construction work for Aramco. The submarine work at Manifa was contracted to a firm that specializes in underwater construction and installation.
At the beginning of March of this year work was moving forward on schedule in all sectors of the project. The "critical path schedules" at that time showed:
Engineering Design: Completed, except for some of the detail drawings.
Fabrication: Work progressing on processing vessels, electric motors, pumps, and so on.
Shipping: Some pipe, vessels and other materials had arrived in Saudi Arabia; more on the way.
Construction: Tie-in pipeline started, site for gas-oil separator plant graded, spheroid being erected at plantsite, foundations for the terminal tanks being built.
Field Testing: Not started.
Field testing will be the last step in the series of critical evaluations that started with the early design reviews within Aramco. Some of the field inspection will be carried out by Aramco experts, and some of the testing will be done by contract specialists, who will use their own equipment.
When the field tests of all facilities from the gathering lines at Manifa to the storage tanks at Ras Tanura are completed, the company will accept them as installed and ready to operate.
The final step in bringing in Manifa will be the "plant start-up," as it is called. Aramco operations, engineering, processing, mechanical and instrumentation personnel will all be present to observe the preliminary production of the field through its new complex of facilities. In the cases of some highly specialized components, the design firm and the manufacturer will also have representatives present to assist in the start-up.
And that, in brief, is an explanation of how to place a new oil field in production.
On January 1, 1964, the Manifa project manager will turn over the facilities to the operating crews and production will be ready to begin from another Saudi Arab oil field. By that time some Aramco project manager will have yet another oncoming oil field somewhere along its "critical path schedule."