Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fahud Oil Field - A Humble Beginning

The Sultanate of Oman's dramatic economic development over the past 40 years was brought about by the revenues from oil, gas and petroleum products.

Oil was first discovered in the interior near Fahud (where I am presently based), in the western desert in 1964. Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) began production in August 1967. The Omani Government owns 60% of PDO, and foreign interests own 40%; Royal Dutch Shell owns 34%; 4% is owned by Compagnie Francaise des Petroles, known today as Total and Partex owns 2% interest.

A typical pumpjack used to produce the remaining recoverable oil after
natural pressure is no longer sufficient to raise oil to the surface.

Oman's growth into a successful oil- and gas-producing nation had humble beginnings. In fact, it was so humble that it originated from a miserable failure. A geological survey of the country in 1925 found no conclusive evidence of oil. Twelve years later, however, when geologists began intensively searching for oil in neighboring Saudi Arabia, Oman's Sultan Said bin Taimur granted a 75-year concession to the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC).

Lacking and with very limited infrastructure to assist survival in Oman's hostile desert environment, the early exploration confronted hard times. Problems were compounded by political unrest. Vital route to the interior from Muscat was often made impassable by the hostilities between warring tribes. As a consequence, the logistics of supply were problematic.

Western Desert of Oman

Table Cliff Near Fahud 1

A Water Pit

Flaking Salt Flat

Fahud Anticline

A Typical Desert Floor Scene

When IPC finally decided to drill its first well in Fahud in early 1956, supplies had to be transported from Duqm in the south of the country, across more than 300 kilometers of some of Oman's most deserted and inhospitable terrain. The hardships endured were a total waste because the well was dry.

Fahud is PDO's oldest and largest field in northern Oman. The Fahud structure was first recognized from the air in 1948 but was only explored on the ground in 1954. Geologist started Stratigraphy investigation work and field mapping the area.

Natural Gas Well

With large oil discoveries in neighboring countries naturally the hopes for success in Fahud-1 were high. One can imagine the disappointment of all parties involved when the well tested a bit of gas and saw only a few traces of oil. At the time the geologists realized that although they had drilled near the crest of the surface anticline, they had probably drilled close to a possible fault and suggested to move the rig a few hundred meters and restart the well. If they had done so they would have discovered the big Fahud oil field. Fahud oil field is a big tilted fault block at Natih levels, just offset to the northeast from the surface anticline, and missed by some 200 meters by the Fahud-1 well.

Fahud-1 SE (left) - NE (right) schematic cross-section illustrating the unlucky near-miss

Because of continuing disappointments in the exploration quest for oil most IPC partners in PDO withdrew from the venture. Shell, a member of the group, formed another consortium with Compagnie Francaise des Petroles and Partex and continued the exploration.

The first oil well, Fahud-1, was spudded on January 18, 1956 but abandoned 18 months later with only minor oil shows. IPC’s prime target was the Jurassic Arab zone. But because Fahud-1 was dry, neighboring anticlines were avoided. From 1957–1960, three further unsuccessful deep exploration wells were drilled at Ghaba, Haima, and Afar.

Fahud 1 Oil Well Memorial

In 1963 the Fahud-2 oil well, 1.5 km from the Fahud-1, hit a pay zone. The field is roughly 17 kilometers long by 2.5 kilometers wide, with an estimated 6 billion-plus barrel of oil, making it the largest field in Oman. Fahud 2 is producing from the Natih fractured carbonates.

Fahud 2 Oil Well Memorial

Later on in 1964 oil was discovered at Fahud on the other side of a fault line from the location where IPC had sunk Fahud-1.

Following the discovery of the prolific Fahud and Natih fields, facilities and a pipeline were built and oil exports began in 1967. To date, there are more than 400 wells drilled in Fahud field.

Gas Flare at Fahud

A Drilling Rig Site in Fahud

A Drilling Rig Site in Fahud

A Typical Rig Camp in Fahud

An Oil Rig Preparing to Move

An Oil Rig on the Move

The new and modern Fahud Airport which begun operation in 2009

Permanent Accommodation for Contractors

How to get there: Fahud is about 335 kilometer from Muscat, mostly over concrete-paved roads. From Muscat take the national highway to Nizwa and subsequently the main road south to Salalah. At 33 kilometers after turning onto the Salalah road turn, take the junction right at Izz signposted to PDO's main oil fields, PDO Concession Area, Natih, Fahud and Yibal. Please be aware upon entering PDO Concession Area, the speed limit for light vehicle is 100 km/hr only and similarly; be aware of heavy oilfield traffic or rig moves. While en-route you will be impressed by the whaleback of Jebel Salakh dominating the southern horizon. The tarmac road will take you to the Natih roundabout some 92 kilometer further. Follow the left route to Fahud, which is somewhere 24 kilometers. The memorial of Fahud – 1 Oil Well can be reached by taking the graded road to the left (southwest and southwards) before reaching Fahud Camp while the memorial for Fahud – 2 Oil Well can be found very close to Station Bravo.

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