Stephen L. Brundage, Arab News
Published — Sunday 18 April 2004
Last Update 18 April 2004 3:00 am
DAMMAM, 18 April 2004 — Geraiyan Al-Hajri, supervisor of Saudi Aramco’s Wellsites Inspection Unit, splits his time between an office in Abqaiq and the field where the field is often a straight line across the vast expanses of Saudi Arabia.
The areas he visits seem remote, but a day with Al-Hajri spotlights the ongoing activities in exploration and reservoir management of Saudi Arabia’s extensive oil and gas reserves.
Al-Hajri has done a variety of jobs over the years for Saudi Aramco since he started with the company in 1978. He has a lifelong afinity with the desert and has acted as the Wellsites point man for countless projects.
He was among the first to travel deep into the Rub Al-Khali to decide where a road eventually would be built to Shaybah.
After traveling 140 km down the Riyadh-Dammam Expressway, he leaves the road and heads north through the sprawling Khurais oil field. He knows the roads without the benefit of a map; he helped build them more than 20 years ago.
“These roads are still in good shape,” Al-Hajri says. “Everything here is ready to go.”
Khurais belies some of the assertions made about Saudi Arabian reserves. The field is 90 km long and 13 km wide. The wellheads are in place, the pipelines stand ready, and even gas-oil separation plants (GOSPs) await the day when the world will need the billions of barrels resting below.
As Al-Hajri leaves Khurais behind, he heads overland to rendezvous with surveyors who have marked off a site for an exploration gas well.
The surveyors of the Exploration Survey Unit have located the spot that Saudi Aramco geologists believe will yield a significant gas find. But before a drill bores into the ground, Al-Hajri will have to build a road, a water well, an airstrip and the foundations for the heavy drilling rig.
“We’re always working,” Al-Hajri says. “If there’s an emergency, we’re among the first to be called, and we’ll go and do whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Most of the men of the Wellsites Inspection Unit are old hands in Saudi Aramco’s Drilling and Workover Department. But there are important differences between the old days and the present.
Perhaps one of the most significant differences is the outsourcing of many construction tasks to contractors. The inspectors make sure the jobs are done right, bringing the knowledge of standards and on-the-job experience.
As Al-Hajri leaves the new wellsite, he turns onto a “skid road” - a road designed to take the heavy weight of a drilling rig and spare the government highways of the associated wear and tear.
The skid roads are well up to the task, and some are now virtual desert highways, with Saudis using the roads to travel between villages.
Saudi Aramco has a legacy in the development of settlements in this area. A water well sunk by Aramco pioneer Max Steineke in 1940 for an exploration well provided the impetus for people of the desert to gather at what is now the village of Ma’aqla. It is a small village with paved roads, many homes and a mosque.
The drilling rig will eventually travel down the refurbished skid roads and new roads will be built to new areas of exploration. When the rig is gone, the people of the desert will also enjoy these roads that link them to other areas.
As Al-Hajri continues north through the desert, he passes seismic crews using state-of-the-art techniques to unlock the treasures hidden deep below.
Seismic crews collect data that reveal the composition of the ground and what it may hold. That information is supplied to geologists who make educated decisions on where to drill for gas and oil. The seismic crews alternate around the clock so the work can continue 24 hours a day until the area is mapped.
The sun is setting when Al-Hajri arrives at the Dhib Field, another oil reserve ready to go when conditions dictate.
“I know this is the place,” he says.
Despite the darkness, Al-Hajri locates the well he wants to check on. The sign has been knocked over and a herd of camels grazes on the site, but his knowledge of the area outweighs the obstacles. He finds the wellhead and associated water well, and makes a note to repair the downed sign.
Al-Hajri then heads north again to the Wellsites Inspection Unit camp. Dawn will hold a new set of challenges for the wellsite inspectors as they continue their ongoing efforts to support exploration.
Just as this wellsite inspection unit team operates in the area between Riyadh and the Kuwaiti border, other teams engage in the same work around the Kingdom, carving out roads and infrastructure for more exploration and reserve development.