Oil and Gas



Oman’s gas industry was born with PDO’s Yibal Gas Plant which was officially opened by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said on October 29, 1978. During his annual meet-the-people tour, he pressed a button which extinguish­ed the flame on top of the flare chimney and opened valves which allowed the gas to flow through a pipeline to a power and desalinati­on plant at Al Ghubrah, which was then burning fuel oil.

The first consignmen­t of pipe was unloaded at Mina Al Fahal on 22 March 1977 and over the following months, 20 trucks from Omani sub-contractor Desert Line Transporta­tion and Contractin­g Company, each specially fitted to carry 15 40ft-long sections of pipe, strung them out along the 25m-wide right of way, running parallel with the oil pipeline. At that stage, PDO’s gas operation consisted of three gas wells, the gas plant which dried the gas, and the pipeline to Al Ghubrah, managed by the PDO-staffed Government Gas team.

However, although in its infancy, the gas organisati­on had a transforma­tive impact. Before the gas supply, there was a severe shortage of power and water. Towns were pitched into darkness at night but once Al Ghubrah came on stream, Muscat was lit up brilliantl­y. At the official opening ceremony of the Yibal Gas Plant, HE

Said Al Shanfari outlined the importance of the gas project for Oman’s economic developmen­t. A number of other industrial projects, including a cement factory, a chemical fertiliser factory and a copper smelting plant near Sohar were then envisaged.

He also pointed out the need to exploit associated gas which had previously been flared during crude oil production and to build a plant to produce bottled gas for domestic consumptio­n, which had previously been imported.

Natural gas liquid plants to utilise associated gas, which would otherwise have been flared, were built at Saih Rawl, Yibal and Fahud. The first plant came on stream at Saih Rawl at the start of 1978, with an initial production of 5,000 barrels per day, rising to 11,000 barrels per day by that summer. The plant employed some unique features for Oman, involving PDO initially struck gas in Yibal in March 1962 while drilling for oil, although it wasn’t deemed commercial­ly viable to develop it. When the drillers hit the top of the Wasia formation, to everyone’s complete surprise, it was gas bearing – with enough pressure to blow the water out of the hole. In the book Oman’s Invisible Energy, author Sir Terence Clark recalls: “It was around lunchtime and (well-site geologist) John Jennings was in his caravan which was about 100 yards from the (Yibal-1) well. Suddenly, he heard a screaming sound like a lowflying jet. He threw open the caravan door and saw the drilling collars come shooting out of the hole, as though they were being launched like a rocket.

“He remembered that there were 280 feet of eight-inch drill collars, which were rising in the air. As they tipped over in a great arc, the threads between the sections were stripped out and the drill collars came thudding to the ground neatly in a line.

“By sheer good luck there was very little damage done to the rig, except at the top where the collars had kicked as they came out. By another fluke, the blowout did not catch fire. The well was still blowing out something, which it was thought, must be carbon dioxide because, despite all the sparks around, it did not ignite. They closed the well with the blowout preventer system and were then able to bleed off a sample of this gas, which was nearly pure methane!’’

rotating thermal separators and an aluminium heat exchanger. The liquids produced were fed into the main oil pipeline while the dry “tail” gas was used for power generation. A new industry had been born.

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