If the distance between Abqaiq, Aramco's producing center, and a place called Qatif Junction were criss-crossed with railroad tracks instead of pipelines, this 42-mile stretch of sand and scrub would resemble Philadelphia's Main Line shooting out towards Chicago. As the name indicates, Qatif Junction is the link-up point for many of the numerous pipelines which link Aramco's prolific fields with its large refinery and busy marine terminal at Ras Tanura and with the feeder leading into the trans-Arabian pipeline which ends 1,100 miles to the west on Lebanon's Mediterranean coast.
Over the years, as Aramco has drilled more and more producing wells in its Abqaiq and Ghawar fields, ever-larger pumping and pipeline capacities have been needed to move the oil toward the customers. To the original 30-inch pipeline between Abqaiq and Qatif Junction—called the QA-1—three other parallel lines were added until there were four lines in the QA complex. But there was still a problem. While increasing quantities of crude oil were being produced, they weren't quite large enough to justify additional pumping capacity. At the same time, the four existing QA pipelines were insufficient to handle the increased flow of oil coming out of Abqaiq.
Pipeliners, however, have means of overcoming this type of dilemma and during this past spring have been applying them on the Abqaiq-Qatif Junction right-of-way. Instead of constructing the fifth line—QA-5—in one continuous operation, they have been laying it in increments, starting at the junction end, and tying the sections built into the adjacent QA-4. Part of the crude oil pumped into QA-4 at Abqaiq gets shunted into that portion of the QA-5 already laid and connected at various places with the older line by jump-overs.
This is useful because two pipelines sharing transportation of a given flow of oil—even if only part of the way—are more efficient than one line taking the entire load because the interior surface friction of the oil is divided during the time it flows in the two lines. This reduces significantly the back pressure at the pump location and enables the pumps themselves to send more oil through the existing lines with the horsepower available.
The new QA-5 line, ranging from 40 to 42 inches in diameter, is being laid under the sand instead of on steel pipe supports, which are necessary only when the terrain is covered with hard rock. The pipeline follows the earth's natural contours along the route, and where these change rapidly pipe lengths have been bent on the construction site by special hydraulic equipment to make them comform to the lay of the land