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Saif Ahmed Al Ghafli

UAE, ABU DHABI - Energy & Mining

Not So Sour

CEO, Al Hosn Gas


Saif Ahmed Al Ghafli has been the CEO of Al Hosn Gas since December 2008, working under a mandate to develop the Arab sour has reservoirs located in the onshore Shah gas field. He is also a Board Member of the National Petroleum Construction Company (NPCC), Ruwais Fertilizer Industries (FERTIL), UAE Fencing Federation, and the UAE University Industrial Advisory Board, College of Engineering. He was previously General Manager of Abu Dhabi Gas Liquefaction Co. (ADGAS) and Ruwais Fertilizer Industries (FERTIL), Operations Manager for Abu Dhabi Gas Industries Limited (GASCO), UAE Governor for OPEC, President of the Arab Fertilizer Association, and Vice-President for the International Fertilizer Association (IFA, ME).

"The Shah gas project will become an industry benchmark and its success is likely to spur even more sour gas projects."

How would you assess demand for gas in the UAE and how does your company contribute to its supply?

There is demand on a large scale for gas in the UAE and the demand-supply gap is growing. Currently, Abu Dhabi is importing about 2 billion standard cubic feet per day of natural gas, which comes from the Dolphin Project in Qatar. However, even this is insufficient to meet the growing need for gas in commercial, industrial, and residential applications. Our company, Al Hosn Gas, will be producing 0.5 billion standard cubic feet per day in an effort to reduce the shortfall in gas supplies.

What is the scale of the Shah gas project?

The Shah gas development is a greenfield project located about 250 kilometers from Abu Dhabi City, in a remote area with no pre-existing access roads, water, electricity, or communications network. Our goal is to process 1 billion standard cubic feet of raw gas per day. The development plan primarily consists of drilling some of the most technically challenging wells, connecting the wells to a gas plant via a gas gathering network, processing the gas and associated liquids at the gas plant, and delivering end products via pipelines to the country’s hydrocarbon network. In addition, we will be producing substantial volumes of sulfur as a by-product, which will be transported 256 kilometers via rail to the port of Ruwais. The scale of the project is huge and the size of the facilities makes them some of the largest of their kind in the world, primarily because of the sour nature of the gas, with an average 23% toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and 10% carbon dioxide (CO2).

“The Shah gas project will become an industry benchmark and its success is likely to spur even more sour gas projects.”

How does the high sulfur content of the gas affect the upstream and downstream process?

The Shah gas field was first discovered in the 1960s, and for close to 50 years was not considered technically feasible to develop due to its high sulfur content. It is tough enough to drill for sour gas in a difficult reservoir formation, and tougher still to build facilities on harsh terrain to gather and process huge volumes of rich sour gas, then separate them into condensates, natural gas liquids, ethane, and sulfur. It requires robust health, safety, and environmental management systems, state-of-the art drilling technology, and stringent manufacturing design and workmanship to effectively construct the facilities that could deliver sustainable production over several decades. As a consequence of the high sulfur content, the gas plant layout is wide and covers an area of six kilometers long and three kilometers wide. A substantial part of a gas plant is its “red zone,” where no personnel are allowed under normal operating conditions. The four sulfur recovery units in the plant are about four to five times the size of a conventional sulfur recovery unit, with each unit processing about 2,500 tons of sulfur per day.

When will the plant be fully completed?

The plant will be completed on schedule and become operational by late 2014. During this summer, we had a multinational peak workforce of 40,000 from several contractors and subcontractors working on the project.

What have been the major challenges so far and how are you looking to boost Emiratization?

One of our primary objectives is to meet certain Emiratization goals. We aim for 75% of the workforce to be UAE nationals by 2017. We are in a good position to meet this target; today, the figure is approximately 40%. The technical experience, skills, and knowledge that our UAE employees need to work in a challenging operating environment such as the Shah gas field will be hard to master, not just in the region, but even globally. Regarding the challenges to date, we have overcome many of them. One such challenge was locating the plant in an area that had no infrastructure. Everything had to be built from scratch, from access roads to electrical power, water supply, and a communications setup. Providing quality services with a pleasant work environment to our site-based employees such as accommodation and social and healthcare amenities was challenging but accomplished effectively and successfully.

The breakdown of production is interesting. Can you provide more detail?

The daily production will be approximately 500 million cubic feet of sweet gas, 33,000 barrels of condensates, 4,400 tons of natural gas liquids, and 9,000 tons of sulfur. All of the gas production will be for domestic consumption. The natural gas liquids (NGLs) will be taken all the way from the Shah area to Ruwais for fractionation into ethane, propane, butane, and pentane production. The condensate will go to the Ruwais Refinery for processing and the elemental sulfur will be transported by rail to Ruwais for export.

What does this project say about Abu Dhabi’s ambitions?

The Shah gas project is undertaken by Al Hosn Gas in pursuit of Abu Dhabi’s Economic Vision 2030. This project confirms that the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is keen to develop and utilize its sour gas resources by developing the technology and committing the required investment. The entire industry is watching our progress with interest. The Shah gas project will become an industry benchmark and its success is likely to spur even more sour gas projects. In addition, our high level of Emiratization, and the resultant knowledge and skills development that it creates, will ensure that our employees are well equipped to tackle the challenges of the future, a key objective of Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2030. We are aware that the success of this project will create a huge responsibility for Al Hosn Gas. We are confident of living up to this responsibility by delivering a growth model that is sustainable, inclusive, and balanced, and takes into consideration the environmental factors, human development, community and social responsibility, as well as business aspects.

© The Business Year – December 2013



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