In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs
Ayat Rawthan, a petrochemical engineer, poses for a photo near an oil field outside Basra, Iraq, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 28 February 2021

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs
  • They are part of a new generation of talented Iraqi women who are testing the limits imposed by their conservative communities

BASRA: It’s nearly dawn and Zainab Amjad has been up all night working on an oil rig in southern Iraq. She lowers a sensor into the black depths of a well until sonar waves detect the presence of the crude that fuels her country’s economy.
Elsewhere in the oil-rich province of Basra, Ayat Rawthan is supervising the assembly of large drill pipes. These will bore into the Earth and send crucial data on rock formations to screens sitting a few meters (feet) away that she will decipher.
The women, both 24, are among just a handful who have eschewed the dreary office jobs typically handed to female petroleum engineers in Iraq. Instead, they chose to become trailblazers in the country’s oil industry, donning hard hats to take up the grueling work at rig sites.
They are part of a new generation of talented Iraqi women who are testing the limits imposed by their conservative communities. Their determination to find jobs in a historically male-dominated industry is a striking example of the way a burgeoning youth population finds itself increasingly at odds with deeply entrenched and conservative tribal traditions prevalent in Iraq’s southern oil heartland.
The hours Amjad and Rawthan spend in the oil fields are long and the weather unforgiving. Often they are asked what — as women — they are doing there.
“They tell me the field environment only men can withstand,” said Amjad, who spends six weeks at a time living at the rig site. “If I gave up, I’d prove them right.”
Iraq’s fortunes, both economic and political, tend to ebb and flow with oil markets. Oil sales make up 90% of state revenues — and the vast majority of the crude comes from the south. A price crash brings about an economic crisis; a boom stuffs state coffers. A healthy economy brings a measure of stability, while instability has often undermined the strength of the oil sector. Decades of wars, civil unrest and invasion have stalled production.
Following low oil prices dragged down by the coronavirus pandemic and international disputes, Iraq is showing signs of recovery, with January exports reaching 2.868 million barrels per day at $53 per barrel, according to Oil Ministry statistics.
To most Iraqis, the industry can be summed up by those figures, but Amjad and Rawthan have a more granular view. Every well presents a set of challenges; some required more pressure to pump, others were laden with poisonous gas. “Every field feels like going to a new country,” said Amjad.
Given the industry’s outsized importance to the economy, petrochemical programs in the country’s engineering schools are reserved for students with the highest marks. Both women were in the top 5% of their graduating class at Basra University in 2018.
In school they became awestruck by drilling. To them it was a new world, with it’s own language: “spudding” was to start drilling operations, a “Christmas tree” was the very top of a wellhead, and “dope” just meant grease.
Every work day plunges them deep into the mysterious affairs below the Earth’s crust, where they use tools to look at formations of minerals and mud, until the precious oil is found. “Like throwing a rock into water and studying the ripples,” explained Rawthan.
To work in the field, Amjad, the daughter of two doctors, knew she had to land a job with an international oil company — and to do that, she would have to stand out. State-run enterprises were a dead end; there, she would be relegated to office work.
“In my free time, on my vacations, days off I was booking trainings, signing up for any program I could,” said Amjad.
When China’s CPECC came to look for new hires, she was the obvious choice. Later, when Texas-based Schlumberger sought wireline engineers she jumped at the chance. The job requires her to determine how much oil is recoverable from a given well. She passed one difficult exam after another to get to the final interview.
Asked if she was certain she could do the job, she said: “Hire me, watch.”
In two months she traded her green hard hat for a shiny white one, signifying her status as supervisor, no longer a trainee — a month quicker than is typical.
Rawthan, too, knew she would have to work extra hard to succeed. Once, when her team had to perform a rare “sidetrack” — drilling another bore next to the original — she stayed awake all night.
“I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, I wanted to understand the whole process, all the tools, from beginning to end,” she said.
Rawthan also now works for Schlumberger, where she collects data from wells used to determine the drilling path later on. She wants to master drilling, and the company is a global leader in the service.
Relatives, friends and even teachers were discouraging: What about the hard physical work? The scorching Basra heat? Living at the rig site for months at a time? And the desert scorpions that roam the reservoirs at night?
“Many times my professors and peers laughed, ‘Sure, we’ll see you out there,’ telling me I wouldn’t be able to make it,” said Rawthan. “But this only pushed me harder.”
Their parents were supportive, though. Rawthan’s mother is a civil engineer and her father, the captain of an oil tanker who often spent months at sea.
“They understand why this is my passion,” she said. She hopes to help establish a union to bring like-minded Iraqi female engineers together. For now, none exists.
The work is not without danger. Protests outside oil fields led by angry local tribes and the unemployed can disrupt work and sometimes escalate into violence toward oil workers. Confronted every day by flare stacks that point to Iraq’s obvious oil wealth, others decry state corruption, poor service delivery and joblessness.
But the women are willing to take on these hardships. Amjad barely has time to even consider them: It was 11 p.m., and she was needed back at work.
“Drilling never stops,” she said.


Factors to watch before Wednesday opening bell: Premarket

Factors to watch before Wednesday opening bell: Premarket
Updated 9 sec ago

Factors to watch before Wednesday opening bell: Premarket

Factors to watch before Wednesday opening bell: Premarket
  • TASI last closed 0.79 percent higher at 11,108.2 points whereas parallel market Nomu rose 1.13 percent to close at 23,450.29 points

RIYADH: The outlook for the Saudi stock exchange remains unraveled amid COVID-19 concerns. However, market signals have shown a positive trend with Tadawul’s main index TASI ending in green in four out of five sessions.

TASI last closed 0.79 percent higher at 11,108.2 points whereas parallel market Nomu rose 1.13 percent to close at 23,450.29 points.

Stocks on the uptrend were topped by Sadr Logistics and Wafrah for Industry & Development.

Sadr is now trading at a three-year high of SR104.2 ($27.8). It saw an increase of 54.23 percent in two weeks.

Wafrah for Industry’s share price climbed for the seventh day in a row to close at SR143, up from SR99.5.

In the Saudi insurance sector, Enaya Insurance and Amana Cooperative insurance last closed in the green zone, recuperating Sunday losses.

Shares of the two insurance firms have jumped significantly since Nov. 23, up 26.27 percent and 23.3 percent respectively.

TASI was dragged down by a 7.08 percent decline in Petro Rabigh’s stock value in the prior session, following the company’s capital decrease and rights issue recommendation.

Al Sagr Insurance signed a contract worth SR20.4 million with Maharah Human Resources Co. to grant health insurance services to the company’s employees and their families.

Saudi Real Estate Co. sold SR137.34 million worth of land in Al-Malqa district, Riyadh.

Aseer Trading, Tourism and Manufacturing Co. applied for a SR200 million short-term revolving Murabaha from the Saudi Investment Bank. Murabaha is a mode of debt financing that complies with the sharia concept.

Saudi Telecom Co., stc, increased its secondary public offering size to 120 million shares representing six percent of stc’s capital, up from 100.2 million shares.

stc’s secondary share subscription period will end on Dec. 8 for retail tranche, while for participating parties the subscription deadline is Dec. 9.

The price range was set between SR100 and SR116 per share.

Jahez International Co. received the Capital Market Authority’s approval to increase its initial public offering on Nomu parallel market from 13 percent to 18 percent of its share capital.

The offering period will commence on Dec.23 and end on Dec.26.

Shares of Saudi Tadawul Group Holding will start trading on the main market on Dec.8.

Tadawul signed a memorandum of understanding with Muscat Stock Exchange, or MSX, to strengthen their bilateral relations and create a conducive trading environment for investors.

Dec. 9 is the last day to subscribe to Maadaniyah’s new shares.


US became Britain’s biggest finance customer in run up to Brexit

A truck drives past stacked shipping containers at the port of Felixstowe, Britain, October 13, 2021. (REUTERS)
A truck drives past stacked shipping containers at the port of Felixstowe, Britain, October 13, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 December 2021

US became Britain’s biggest finance customer in run up to Brexit

A truck drives past stacked shipping containers at the port of Felixstowe, Britain, October 13, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Exports to the United States rose 5.3 percent, said TheCityUK, which promotes Britain’s financial sector overseas

LONDON: The United States became Britain’s biggest export market for financial services in the run up to Brexit, overtaking the European Union where sales shrank in 2020, TheCityUK lobby group said on Wednesday.
Britain’s financial sector was largely cut off from the EU — previously its single biggest customer — when Britain fully left the bloc’s orbit last December.
For 2020, total financial services exports remained little changed at 82.4 billion pounds ($109.07 billion). Exports to the EU fell 6.6 percent to 24.7 billion pounds, but rose 4.1 percent to 57.7 billion pounds to non-EU countries.
Exports to the United States rose 5.3 percent, said TheCityUK, which promotes Britain’s financial sector overseas.
Britain’s financial services trade surplus of $80.6 billion remains the largest in the world, nearly the same as the next two leading countries, the United States and Singapore, combined at $91.7 billion.
The EU, meanwhile, is building up its autonomy in finance, making it unlikely that Britain will regain unfettered access to the continent’s investors and financial markets.
“The UK’s status as a world leading financial center is at risk unless industry, government and regulators work together to boost long term competitiveness, deepen key trade links, and focus on new areas of future global growth,” said Anjalika Bardalai, TheCityUK’s chief economist and head of research.
Britain is now revising its financial rules to maintain London’s attractiveness as a global financial center to keep up with leader New York, and fend off competition from EU cities like Amsterdam as well as Asian centers.
($1 = 0.7555 pounds)


A $30bn investment in the future

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is welcomed by the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, upon his arrival at the airport in the Omani capital Muscat on December 6, 2021. (AFP)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is welcomed by the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, upon his arrival at the airport in the Omani capital Muscat on December 6, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 08 December 2021

A $30bn investment in the future

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is welcomed by the Sultan of Oman, Haitham bin Tariq, upon his arrival at the airport in the Omani capital Muscat on December 6, 2021. (AFP)
  • Saudi firms have signed agreements with partners in the Sultanate worth $10 billion 
  • Like Saudi Arabia, Oman has a strategy to build a post-oil economy with a strong fiscal base

DUBAI: The signing of new investment deals reportedly worth $30 billion between Saudi Arabia and Oman is no doubt a positive development for solidifying cooperation between the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Yet the first questions that spring to mind are: Why Oman and why now?

From a geopolitical perspective, Saudi Arabia’s move is important as the Kingdom is now using its immense economic clout to support its smaller neighbors, starting with Iraq to the north and now Oman to the southeast.

It is broadly accepted that the region’s future social and political stability require economic stability. Many of Saudi Arabia’s neighbors are oil-producing nations whose journeys towards diversifying their economies to embrace other industries and markets are only just beginning.

Investment is seen as an effective way to help these countries move away from oil and generate more jobs in other sectors. But for Saudi investments to be of any long-term positive significance, they must align with the national and strategic goals of both countries.

Much like Saudi Arabia, Oman has its own reform agenda known as Oman Vision 2040, which aims to turn the Sultanate into an economic powerhouse with a sustainable fiscal and economic base. What Oman needs to make this bold vision a reality is access to the financial capital needed to expand its economy.

With its aging wells and reservoirs, Oman’s oil industry will require massive investment to maintain current capacity. The Sultanate is clearly aware that oil will not be its sole source of revenue in the future. In fact, its 2021 budget was drafted on the basis of oil costing a paltry $45 per barrel.

To help Oman realize its post-oil potential, Saudi Arabian companies have signed a raft of trade and infrastructure deals with their Omani counterparts that will not only increase foreign direct investments into the Sultanate, but also enhance its economic diversification.

As part of the visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi and Omani companies signed 13 MoUs related to joint work in economic sectors. (SPA)

Looking at energy investments in particular, the first agreement entails replicating what Saudi Arabia is doing in NEOM — its new high-tech smart-city on the Kingdom’s western Red Sea coast.

Omani energy provider OQ Group signed three of the agreements, the first of which was with Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and Air Products in the fields of petrochemicals, renewable energy and green hydrogen.

With this deal, Saudi Arabia is expanding its green hydrogen plan beyond its own borders and into Oman, which will boost the overall supply of hydrogen coming from the GCC.

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Hydrogen has become a viable contender for energy transition away from environmentally harmful fossil fuels. Oman is ideally located to supply hydrogen to southeast and east Asian markets, while NEOM is better placed to ship it to European markets.

The second energy deal, relating to oil storage, was signed with Saudi Aramco, and the third, involving development of Oman’s Duqm Petrochemical Complex project, with SABIC.

Saudi Aramco’s strategy is to expand storage beyond the Strait of Hormuz. Bypassing the narrow waterway will help reduce the threat to shipping posed by blockades and even piracy, which risk wreaking havoc for global oil prices.

As for SABIC’s deal, Duqm is attracting more attention now that the joint Kuwait-Oman refinery is nearing completion. This will allow SABIC to have better access to feedstocks while utilizing Omani products. The impact of this will be reflected in job creation, a new petrochemical hub in Duqm and valuable knowledge transfer. 

Sultan of Oman presents Oman Civil Order of the First Class to HRH Crown Prince, in recognition of brotherly ties, excellent relations and constructive cooperation. (SPA)

It is not just the energy sector that has benefited from the deals. The tourism industry in Oman can also expect a flood of new investments. Omran Group has signed a memorandum with the Saudi Dar Al-Arkan Real Estate Development Company for the development of the Yetti Beach in Oman.

Omran is known for creating sustainable and authentic tourism assets and lifestyle communities and destinations designed to drive economic growth and contribute to the diversification of the economy.

Oman-based firm Asyad, a logistics group, has signed an agreement with Saudi Bahri, a transportation and logistics company, while Minerals Development Oman signed a deal with the Kingdom’s Maaden Phosphate Co. to boost cooperation in the mining sector.

As for the timing, both counties have the means and the will to invest for the future. Oil prices are high, giving both countries the resources they need to support their shared national visions.

If all goes according to plan, Oman could be on track to realize its national goals well in advance of 2040, allowing it to join the 2030 club.


Amazon launches Arabic-speaking Alexa in Saudi Arabia

Amazon launches Arabic-speaking Alexa in Saudi Arabia
Updated 07 December 2021

Amazon launches Arabic-speaking Alexa in Saudi Arabia

Amazon launches Arabic-speaking Alexa in Saudi Arabia

 

RIYADH: Amazon on Tuesday launched Alexa in Saudi Arabia offering customers an all-new, localized language experience in an Arabic Khaleeji dialect.

Alexa, the brain that powers the Echo device family, has unique new features built with Saudi customers in mind, new smart home integrations with compatible devices, and nearly 200 Alexa skills.

It seeks to deliver a localized experience, including a local dialect voice with a local personality that will surprise and delight customers—local pronunciations and intonation; local knowledge; and nearly 200 Alexa skills with favorites from Saudi developers and regional brands including Anghami, AlArabiya, MBC, Careem, Fatafeat, Al Baik, Sabq, and more.

“We’re incredibly excited to bring Alexa and the Echo family of devices to Saudi Arabia,” said Tom Taylor, senior vice president, Amazon Alexa. 

“The team has worked hard to create an all-new experience designed from the ground up for our customers in Saudi Arabia, reflecting the Kingdom’s rich heritage, traditions, and culture while celebrating the uniqueness of the Arabic language.”

Commenting on the launch of Alexa, Nawaf Alhoshan, deputy minister for technology development at the Saudi Ministry of Communications and IT, said Amazon Alexa will contribute to our goals and help drive the adoption of IoT and artificial intelligence in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is building an infrastructure with international standards that will pave the way to make it a leading digital nation and be among top 20 digital economies and a hub for technology investments in the region.

Ronaldo Mouchawar, vice president of Amazon MENA, said the company supports the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the launch of the new and customized product is a testimony to the efforts.

Giving a little background about Alexa, Rafid Fatani, regional director of Amazon Devices for the Middle East, said it is named after the great library of Alexandria. Alexa, which is a cloud-based service that “gets smarter everyday,” he added.


Support growing to add WTI oil to Brent benchmark to improve liquidity

Support growing to add WTI oil to Brent benchmark to improve liquidity
Updated 07 December 2021

Support growing to add WTI oil to Brent benchmark to improve liquidity

Support growing to add WTI oil to Brent benchmark to improve liquidity

LONDON: The UK North Sea has been in a state of perpetual transformation in recent years. As oil majors left the aging basin for less expensive and larger fields across the globe it has been forced to sharply cut costs to compete for investment.

Then the US fracking boom upset global prices. If that wasn’t enough, investment, which has fallen by more than a third, is also under threat from lukewarm support from the UK government amid the global transition to greener energy. Oil major Shell last week pulled out of a large-scale development in the aging basin amid accusations that government pandering to environmentalists was behind delays in formally licensing the scheme and had made it uneconomical.

Now it appears the very definition of the black gold extracted from the forbidding waters of the North Sea is also under threat with the news that UK oil major BP is backing calls to add US West Texas Intermediate Midland crude to the global Brent benchmark index.

Brent is the benchmark for almost two thirds of the world’s oil — around 100 million barrels per day (bpd) — including African, European, and Middle Eastern crude.

These days it is based on five North Sea crudes — Forties, Brent, Osebe Ekofisk and Troll — all of which are in long-term decline.

However, now BP, one of the UK’s biggest companies and an oil major with a long and profitable North Sea history, believes Brent should now include WTI.

BP discovered the Forties field in 1970. The Brent field was discovered by Royal Dutch Shell a year later.

In an internal document quoted by Reuters news agency this week BP said it “strongly believes that the inclusion of WTI Midland, properly executed, is the best solution to improve liquidity and retain Brent as a well-supplied and reliable sweet and light benchmark”.

BP declined to comment. 

Adding WTI to Brent poses a problem in that their prices are based on two different markets, with different price drivers.

However, the move, which was first put forward by S&P Global Platts — the energy prices agency which first established the Brent benchmark — is becoming widely seen necessary because falling North Sea supplies have made it difficult to rely on the benchmark as a reliable indicator of the price of light, sweet crude oil preferred by refiners.

WTI, the benchmark used in much of North America, refers to the gathering point in West Texas where pipelines from fields in the American interior converge. Like North Sea oil, WTI is defined as light sweet, which is low in sulphur.

While quality and the location of where oil is drilled are key factors in valuations, there are essentially just three types of oil in terms of global prices. Brent, the most heavily traded, WTI, and Dubai/Oman.

The percentage of sulfur in crude determines the amount of processing needed to refine the oil into energy products. Brent and WTI sweet crude both contain less than 1 percent sulfur making them easier to refine, particularly for diesel and gasoline.

Dubai/Oman has a much higher sulfur content but is the main benchmark reference for Persian Gulf oil delivered to the Asian market.

However, analysis carried out by S&P Global Platts indicates North Sea crude is getting heavier and more sulfurous. It adds medium sour crude will make up around 30 percent of the basin’s volumes by 2040 compared to just over 2 percent in 2010.

Thus another solution to declining production of North Sea light sweet crude is to include heavier oil from Norway’s massive North Sea Johan Sverdrup field, oil which is in demand in Asia.

However, BP states in the leaked document that it does not support the idea of adding the Sverdrup field to Brent because it’s a too sour grade of crude and it wants to maintain the lighter, easier to refine market.

Thus, the momentum to include WTI to keep Brent sweet and provide liquidity to the market is growing and is likely to prevail.

And in words that show sentiment plays no part in business, the BP document added: “BP also believes that in the medium term, Forties and Brent (the two cornerstones of North Sea development) should be removed from the benchmark, as their values are becoming increasingly difficult to assess due to declining volumes.”