en zh es ja ko pt

Volume 33, Number 6November/December 1982

In This Issue

Back to Table of Contents


The New Cities

In 1977, Jubail, on Saudi Arabia's Gulf Coast, was a small fishing community of some 8,000 people. Today, it is the site of one of the largest civil engineering projects in the world - a project employing more than 40,000 men - and by 1985 it will be the industrial capital of the Middle East

At that point, Jubail will be a home for industries producing everything from detergents to steel, with a population of more than 60,000, living in a modern, landscaped community with a wide range of educational, health and recreational facilities, huge power and water systems, telecommunications networks, industrial and commercial ports, roads, railroads, and an airport.

Jubail's stunning transformation is part of one of the boldest of the Saudi Arab government's schemes to restructure the kingdom's oil-export economy by building two completely new industrial dties in the sand: Jubail on the Gulf and—a smaller dty, but an equally dramatic project -Yanbu' on the Red Sea.

For although sales of crude oil will continue to dominate Saudi Arabia's economy in coming decades, and although some alternative industries - not directly related to petroleum - are being developed in existing urban centers, such as Dammam, Jiddah and Riyadh, it is the heavy hydrocarbon, metal and mineral installations being built at the new dties of Jubail and Yanbu' that will make the initial contribution to the creation of a diversified, self-sustaining industrial economy less dependent on oil.

By 1985, primary industries located at Jubail and Yanbu' will be capable of producing over one million barrels a day of refined oil products and natural gas liquids, plus 3.84 million tons a year of petrochemicals, fertilizer and steel. Much of this will be exported. The rest will be used as raw materials for secondary industries, producing a wide variety of chemical, plastic and metal goods, with other satellite industries providing services and supplies to the cities' factories and workers.

The new cities' refineries are designed to maximize Saudi Arabia's oil earnings by produdng finished petroleum products. Their other primary industries are aimed at diversifying the kingdom's economy away from oil, by harnessing cheap supplies of gas to produce petrochemicals and power energy-intensive metal plants, while secondary and support industries lessen Saudi Arabia's dependence on imported manufactured goods, and provide new opportunities for the Saudi private sector.

Equally important, the formation of a well-trained Saudi work force, capable of operating and maintaining the two urban-industrial complexes, will provide a nudeus of administrative and technical personnel for the continuing development of the entire kingdom.

And finally, the creation of two new industrial growth poles, on opposite sides of the Arabian peninsula, will stimulate growth in previously unindustrialized areas, and help spread wealth and progress throughout the country.

The creation, on remote coasts, of two completely new industrial cities is a gigantic undertaking. It involves a Royal Commission, two regional directorates, most government ministries and agendes, many international enterprises, scores of skilled consultants, hundreds of Saudi and foreign contractors, thousands of engineers, technidans and laborers, millions of tons of materials and equipment, and billions of dollars in expenditures.

"This is the biggest construction project in all history," says an offirial of the Arabian Bechtel Corporation, the firm that is providing technical and managerial assistance to the Royal Commission at Jubail. "There's never been anything like it."

Initially, for example, the planners had to cope with a basic but immense problem at Jubail: before anything could be built they had to provide a smooth, stable surface in place of the soft sand and wet salt flats that made parts of the project site impassable. To do so they moved nearly 400 million cubic meters (more than 14 billion cubic feet) of earth - enough, by Bechtel's reckoning, to build an embankment nine meters wide (30 feet) and one meter (three feet) high around the equator. At the peak of site preparation, 2,000 men and 1,000 machines were engaged in transporting, compacting and grading the soil.

Before the bulldozers moved in, of course, planners had already spent years in preparation, starting in 1973, when the Saudi government ordered a master plan for the construction of two new industrial cities to spearhead the kingdom's drive to diversify its economy. Two years later the plan was completed and it called for cities at Jubail and Yanbu'.

Jubail, a small old port 90 kilometers (56 miles) north of Dhahran, was selected as the site of the larger of the two cities because it adjoins Saudi Arabia's oil fields and the navigable waters of the Gulf. When completed, the new city, not far from the old port, will occupy a 900-square-kilometer desert peninsula and bay (347 square miles). Yanbu', 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Jiddah, was chosen as the site of the second city because of its natural Red Sea harbor and commercially strategic location; it is much closer to European markets. Located 19 kilometers (12 miles) south of Yanbu' al-Bahr, the Yanbu' industrial city will occupy 150 square kilometers (58 square miles) of coastal plain at the foot of the Hijaz Mountains.

In 1974, as the master plan was taking shape, the Saudi government gave the go-ahead for the expansion of the harbor at Yanbu' al-Bahr and construction of a new port at Jubail, in readiness to receive the millions of tons of equipment and materials required to build the two cities. At the Yanbu' site, a construction-supply port was also built; then in 1975, the late King Khalid appointed a special Royal Commission, headed by then Crown Prince Fahd, to lay the foundations of the new cities.

The commission's responsibilities included the planning, construction and operation of the infrastructure needed to support the cities, and coordination of their industrial growth. To help in its task the commission set up two directorates -one for each city - and selected two engineering and construction firms -Bechtel, for Jubail, and Saudi Arabian Parsons Limited for Yanbu' - to implement the planning.

Two government agencies - the General Petroleum and Minerals Organization (Petromin), and the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) - were assigned to develop the cities' primary industries through joint ventures with foreign firms. Responsibility for supervising the setting up of secondary industries was delegated to the Ministry of Industry and Electricity.

One of the main tasks of the Royal Commission was to coordinate the activities of these various bodies and cut through the red tape that automatically arises in operations of such magnitude.

At last, on November 1,1977, construction of basic industrial facilities was initiated at Yanbu', with the arrival of the 10,000 tons of pipe for the crude oil pipeline which now runs across the kingdom from its eastern oil fields to the Red Sea. The industrial lifelines of Yanbu', the 1,202-kilometer (747 miles) pipeline and a natural gas liquids pipeline beside it will carry oil and gas from the east to the west coast to fuel and feed Yanbu's industries, provide a Red Sea outlet for Saudi oil and reduce the kingdom's dependence on a single Gulf outlet.

Oil and gas are basic to heavy industry, and most oil-producing countries dream of building their own industries instead of just exporting their oil to fuel those of others; at Jubail and Yanbu', Saudi Arabia is translating these dreams into reality.

Refining, of course, is the one industry which can be based directly on crude oil; and before World War II, refineries were usually located in oil-producing countries, with products—fuel oil, diesel, gasoline and kerosene - shipped to the consumer. Later, however, increased demand, diversification of products and the evolution of the super-tanker changed the economics, and companies moved refineries closer to the markets. A typical example of this was the growth of the giant Rotterdam refining complex in the Netherlands.

Now, however, the oil-producing countries want to see this trend reversed, and, in addition, use the gases dissolved in oil - and previously flared - as alternative feedstock for petrochemical and fertilizer plants.

Energy-intensive industries, such as metal and mineral installations, also can benefit from locations in, or near, oil-producing countries if it does not mean importing raw materials, and in Saudi Arabia deposits of minerals, just beginning to be exploited, may make such industries feasible.

To set up and run such large and complex projects as refineries, chemical plants and steel plants, and market their products overseas, the oil-producing countries still need the technology and skills of the West, and Saudi Arabia, by using its unique position as the West's major supplier of oil, has been able to negotiate numerous arrangements by which they could obtain what they need. By the end of 1979, for example, Petromin and Sabic were signing joint ventures for Jubail and Yanbu', attracting partners by offering dependable oil supplies, as well as fuel and feedstock for their Saudi plants. In fact, says John Andrews, energy correspondent of the British daily newspaper The Guardian, "it is hard to fault the Saudi strategy"

In the early 1970s, the people of Jubail, a long settled site in Arabia and once an important port, eked out little more than meager livings from the sea; bypassed by the 20th century, Jubail had lain all but forgotten for years.

Across the Arabian peninsula, at Yanbu', the situation was similar. Once an important rest stop for caravans from Yemen, and later the Red Sea entry for Mediterranean Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca), Yanbu' saw its stagnating economy decline sharply after the 1967 closure of the Suez Canal.

The tide of history, however, has once more turned. Today, Jubail and Yanbu' have been infused with renewed vigor as two new cities rise at incredible speed: only a few years after the start of construction, a large portion of project infrastructure is in place, and the population of the two cities already exceeds 70,000.

Yanbu' because it is smaller, is coming of age more quickly. Public works contractors have moved 1.5 million cubic meters (about two million cubic yards) of soil and have installed about 19 kilometers (12 miles) of piping every month; more than 80 projects have been under construction simultaneously.

Two of the city's primary industries, a crude oil export terminal and a NGL fractionation plant are already in business, while a whole range of secondary and support industries including precast concrete factories, bakeries, banks, two first class hotels and an excellent French restaurant are already functioning.

Jubail, too, is taking off. Nearly all of the industrial sites have been graded, and the first module of the permanent community has been built. Petrochemical, methanol, steel and fertilizer plants are under construction; the city's commercial port is complete and its industrial port nearly so. Jubail also has a modern 105-bed hospital, and an ice cream factory.

At both cities, new airports are in use and networks of roads link project sites, road building having followed closely on the heels of site preparation, the first contract being awarded at Jubail in August, 1977.

Today, as a result, wide highways criss-cross the industrial zone, and construction traffic is heavy; up to 400 vehicles an hour. A heavy-duty highway-looking more like an airport runway than a road, and capable of carrying 2,000-ton loads—cuts a broad asphalt swath through the city. Sections of factories, built overseas and floated to Saudi Arabia, are hauled along it from the port to the industrial zone, where they will become part of tomorrow's industry.

At the end of another wide, paved street is a giant blue-green water tower, its smooth sides and bulbous top cool-looking in the sun. Already the street is lined with electric lamps that automatically switch on as dusk touches the desert terrain.

Naturally, power and water are crucial elements in the new cities' infrastructure. Most of Jubail's drinking water is supplied by the Saline Water Conservation Corporation desalination plants situated south of the city, and a 1,200-megawatt steam power plant at Ghazlan supplies power.

The more remote city of Yanbu', however, must provide its own power and water. Initially, this was supplied by makeshift means - desalination barges, anchored offshore, and portable power turbines - but now the first phase of Yanbu's permanent power and water supply system is almost complete: a dual-purpose system, with waste heat from the power generating process used to boil seawater, which is then condensed for drinking. By 1985, it will have a total 960-megawatt power output, and produce 83.3 million liters of water a day (22 million gallons).

Seawater for the Yanbu' power and desalination complex, and for cooling the city's industries, will be drawn from the Red Sea through a series of 3.7 meter (12 foot) diameter pipes - among the widest in the world.

At Jubail, 14 pumps of 1,200 horsepower each will deliver the Gulf directly to the doorstep of the industries that need it, through an 10.5-kilometer (6.5 miles) network of canals, at a rate of 112 cubic meters (4,000 cubic feet), per second - an annual flow equivalent to two-thirds that of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers combined. But then - cleaner and not much warmer- it is discharged back into the ocean. And since fresh water is as precious as oil in Saudi Arabia, waste water collected from the new cities' industrial and community zones will be re-used to irrigate the parks and gardens that will surround them.

Today Jubail's commercial port has a total of 16 berths for handling breakbulk, palletized and containerized cargo. In addition, there is an industrial port with direct access to the open sea, and linked to the mainland by a causeway 10 kilometers (six miles) long. While this port is already operating at Yanbu', still another new port is rapidly taking shape as nine contractors dredge over 23,715,000 cubic meters (31 million cubic yards) of earth, dump 1.5 million tons of rock embankment, drive 2,700 piles up to 122 centimeters (48 inches) in diameter - and pour 143,744 cubic meters (188,000 cubic yards) of concrete for the new port.

On the telecommunications front, engineers are striving to complete underground telephone and telegraph cable systems, earth satellite and microwave stations, sea and air navigational systems, and an emergency services radio network for firefighting, security and medical services.

Jubail will eventually be linked with Saudi Arabia's national railway system by a 100-kilometer (60 miles) mainline railroad to Dammam, capable of transporting over eight million tons of freight a year. And there is also the possibility - admittedly slight - of rebuilding the famous Hijaz Railway, which once linked Damascus and Medina -154 kilometers (96 miles) east of Yanbu'. Rebuilding the railroad would give Yanbu' industries direct access to markets in Jordan and Syria, to the north, as well as to the populous cities to the south.

The economic heart of Jubail and Yanbu' are primary industry zones; by the mid 1980's, there will be 11 primary industries operating at Jubail and six at Yanbu', chiefly oil refineries and petrochemical complexes, making Saudi Arabia a major industrial force in the Middle East.

The six industrial centers at Yanbu' will be a crude oil export terminal, a natural gas liquid fractionation plant, three oil refineries and a petrochemical complex - all, by late 1982, completed or underway.

The first of the refineries, a 170,000-barrel-a-day Petromin plant, is scheduled to go on stream in 1983, and will produce gasoline, liquid petroleum gas, jet fuel, diesel and fuel oil for the home market. The output of the two other refineries, however, is for export. One, a joint venture between Petromin and a U. S. firm, will produce 5,000 barrels of lubricants a day, starting in 1984.

The third and largest of the Yanbu' refineries, with a capacity of 250,000 barrels a day, is a joint venture between Petromin and a U.S. company to produce gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel and heating oil among other products; it is scheduled to go on stream in 1984 - along with a huge petrochemical complex to produce 450,000 tons of ethylene a year, mainly for export.

At Jubail, two primary industries racing towards completion, will be up and running early next year; they will produce fertilizer and steel. Already, twin 62-meter-high towers (203 feet), used to reduce iron ore to "sponge" iron to feed the steel plant, and a 73-meter-high tower (240 feet) to solidify urea fertilizer for export, dominate Jubail's skyline. The iron ore will be moved from the port to the top of the reduction towers on a 14-kilometer long conveyor belt (8.5 miles). Initially, the ore will be imported from Brazil and Sweden, but eventually it is hoped to mine enough from deposits under investigation in the northwest of the kingdom.

Another joint venture, the 800,000-ton-a-year steel plant, will reduce by half Saudi Arabia's imports of reinforcement bars and wire rod for building.

As Saudi Arabia is already self-sufficient in nitrogenous fertilizer, most of the 500,000-ton-a-year output of the urea plant, a joint venture, will be exported. Jubail's chief export product, however, will be chemicals; Sabic has signed joint venture agreements to build four petrochemical complexes which between them will produce nearly four and a half million tons of glycol, ethanol, styrene, polyethylene and other chemicals each year.

Sabic has also concluded agreements to build two 600,000/650,000-ton-a-year methanol plants, and all six plants are due to go on stream by the end of 1985, making Saudi Arabia one of the world's leading petrochemical producers.

Jubail is also to have two export-oriented oil refineries. One will produce 250,000 barrels of fuel oil, naphtha, chemical gas oil and benzine a day. The second will produce 12,000 barrels of lubricants a day. The bulk terminal of Petromin's marketing agency - Petmark - scheduled to be completed in 1983 to store refined oil products for the domestic market is another primary industry.

The 17 primary industries located at Jubail and Yanbu' will have a major impact on Saudi Arabia's economy - first, by reducing the kingdom's dependence on the export of crude oil for income, second, by spawning satellite industries. Foreign sales of petrochemicals, methanol, fertilizer and steel, for example, are expected to amount to over 16 billion Saudi riyals (more than $4.66 billion) a year and, as a natural outgrowth from the primary industries, secondary enterprises will take the output of the primary industries and use it as raw materials to produce manufactured goods.

Wire rod produced by the steel plant at Jubail will be made into fencing and nails at factories in the city's light industrial park. Products of the petrochemical complexes will be used to make vinyl, anti-freeze, adhesives, bleaches, disinfectants and plastic goods. The by-products of the oil refineries will be transformed into paints, insulation, solvents, nylon, polyester fibers and detergents.

Furthermore, a wide range of support industries to service and supply the primary and secondary industries, other businesses and the general public will develop. Already, in fact, over 150 companies have set up, or are in the process of setting up, businesses at Jubail and Yanbu'.

They include factories to make construction materials, such as cement, pre-cast concrete, asphalt and pipe; vehicle repair and maintenance works; plants to process food and bottle gas; print shops, gas stations and laundries.

In fact, such has been the response from Saudi firms wishing to set up business in Yanbu' that original plans for a 440-hectare light industrial park (1,087 acres) have had to be doubled.

Eventually all of the infrastructure and industry slated for completion at Jubail and Yanbu' by the mid 1980s will be expanded. In fact, the Royal Commission's master plan foresees development there through to the end of the century and beyond.

Already, provisions are being made for a fourth oil refinery at Yanbu', and another strong possibility is a plant to process minerals from Red Sea mud.

At Jubail, steel production will be expanded to four million tons a year, and other mineral plants built. Chemical production will advance from basic chemicals to intermediates, such as polystyrene and a gasoline additive, and another fertilizer plant will be built.

All told, Jubail, by the year 2000, is expected to have 16 primary industries and a population of 350,000 people, while Yanbu' should have at least eight primary industries and a community of 150,000.

For cities expected to have a combined population of 500,000 by the year 2000, sites at Jubail and Yanbu' are at first deceptive. But on closer inspection, the bustle of construction activity in the residential zones is also clear. Here, too, Jubail and Yanbu' are building.

Most of the two cities' present population live in temporary housing-construction camps and even a multi-story floating hostel towed to Yanbu'. And although several pleasant family and bachelor compounds have been built, these are but stepping stones to the "permanent" communities.

Work on these began, at both Jubail and Yanbu', in 1981, and the first of the hundreds of thousands of villas, houses and apartments that will eventually make up the new cities will soon be available for residents.

Separated from the industrial parks by wide, landscaped buffer zones, the two self-sufficient cities will combine the best of modern international living with the traditions of Arab architecture, typified by the attractive arch.

The communities will be multi-nuclear in form. The base of the inlet excavated at Jubail, for example, will be developed as a center serving the whole city. Here will be located the main administrative and cultural facilities, a central park, and community college or university. The residential area around it will be divided into districts, bounded by green space corridors or the coastline, each with its own essential services such as hospitals, secondary schools, sports complexes and stores. And districts will be made up of neighborhoods of about 2,500 people, each with its own mosques, elementary schools, playgrounds and shops.

The Royal Commission has retained several of the world's most renowned architectural firms to assist in community planning and design. Neighborhoods will have diversity and color, avoiding the conformity of many "master-planned" communities.

Housing will vary in size and style to suit all family and income levels.

Basic utilities, buried underground, are to be supplied by the same infrastructure network that serves the industrial areas.

Yachting marinas, museums, libraries, an aquarium and a zoo are also slated for development. Yanbu' even has a mangrove preserve, where wild birds already nest-apparently undisturbed by what is no less than the sound of growth.

This article appeared on pages 30-40 of the November/December 1982 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for November/December 1982 images.