For the riggers and transport specialists of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) there are few surprises left and not many challenges. Back in the winter of 1966, for example, they hauled from Ras Tanura to Abqaiq a brand new de-ethanizer column that weighed 275 tons, and barely put a scratch on it.
Even so, they had to think a bit a couple of months ago when Aramco decided to move a spheroid from the inland Abqaiq oil field to Ras Tanura, as part of the expansion of crude oil production at the Qatif field, which straddles the Gulf coast. Spheroids, which play an important role in the initial process of gas-oil separation, are not particularly heavy, but they are bulky. The one that had to be moved weighed only 75 tons but it was 52½ feet wide and 46 feet high—roughly the size of a four-story apartment building.
To the transportation experts this meant they could not use the 90-mile stretch of paved highways that link Abqaiq, Dhahran and Ras Tanura because power transmission lines crossed the highways at several points. These lines, interconnecting the Aramco power plants that serve the company's three main operating centers, supply electricity to the company's northern and offshore oil-producing installations. To get a spheroid through would have meant shutting off the power, and at a time of maximum oil production this simply could not be done. Another problem was traffic. That stretch of 90 miles happens to include the main paved arteries that link eastern Saudi Arabia's busiest industrial and commercial centers. The 52½-foot-wide spheroid, grunting along at five miles an hour, would have created a traffic snarl of monumental proportions.
The men planning the spheroid move, therefore, decided to go the long way 'round: west toward the ' Ain Dar area of the Ghawar field, north by the Fazran field to Fadhili and the Northern Area Access Road, then southeasterly to Ras Tanura. The route they mapped had surfaces covered by everything from deep soft sand and brush to saline fiats and asphalt, and it was 217 miles long, but it also avoided key overhead power transmission lines and high-density road traffic.
To get the project underway the spheroid was lifted from its foundation—about as high as a man's chest—on four jacks, two on each side. Raising it eight inches at a time on each side until it was three feet above its original resting place, the riggers then edged it onto steel-pipe rollers and rolled it onto a special dolly.
Locomotive power for the haul was provided by two 435-horsepower Kenworth trucks, each carrying a 12½-ton cement-block counterweight to give the cab's six immense tires more traction, and joined in tandem by a towbar. After nearly continuous driving from dawn to dusk for three days the trucks and their weighty cargo arrived at the Ras Tanura Refinery, and the laborious task of easing the spheroid off its dolly and onto a new foundation began.