Abu Dhabi-based International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic) is proceeding with plans for three refineries at a cost of $20bn, including a plant in Fujairah, despite the uncertainty in global financial markets.

In an innovative approach, the winner of the project management consultancy deal for the first refinery, which is to be built in Pakistan, will also have the option of carrying out similar services for the second and third refineries in Morocco and the UAE respectively, according to sources close to the project.

At least three companies submitted bids in early October to Ipic for the Pakistan contract, including Veco, part of the US’ CH2M Hill, the US’ Stone & Webster and Australia’s WorleyParsons. An award is due by the end of November.

Ipic, headed by chairman Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, plans to stagger the development of the refineries in three-month intervals.

The $5bn Pakistan refinery, which recently gained approval from Islamabad, will be developed in Baluchistan, in a joint venture with the local Pakistan-Arab Refinery Company (Parco). Ipic will hold 74 per cent of the venture, with final commissioning expected by the first quarter of 2011. Once completed, the plant will have a capacity of 200,000-300,000 barrels a day (b/d).

The investment fund will next start work on a Moroccan refinery at Jorf Lasfar on the east coast, south of Casablanca. The refinery is likely to have a capacity of 200,000 b/d and involve a capital cost of about $5bn. It will provide refined products for the local market (MEED 13:6:08).

UK-based consultant Wood Mackenzie is understood to have completed a feasibility study of the Moroccan refinery over the past month. Ipic is expected to invite competitive bids for the front-end engineering and design element in early 2009, with the refinery due to be commissioned in 2013.

The Abu Dhabi firm is also seeking a technical partner, which could be an international oil company, to take a stake in the project. The US’ Occidental Petroleum is seen as one potential partner. Earlier this year, Occidental signed an agreement with Ipic to develop upstream and downstream projects in the region (MEED 10:3:08).

Ipic has also committed to its troubled 200,000-b/d refinery at Fujairah, with talks understood to be ongoing with Occidental and the US’ Dow Corporation over partnering on the deal.

Ipic signed an agreement with the US’ ConocoPhillips in 2006 to carry out a feasibility study on the refinery, but the US firm pulled out of the scheme last year, saying rising construction costs had made it unviable (MEED 14:9:07).

Last month, an adviser to the state-run energy firm confirmed that the scope of the project had been downgraded by the company to 200,000 b/d (MEED 26:9:08).

Ipic’s commitment to the new ventures comes at an uncertain time for the industry, with analysts predicting margins will come under pressure as new capacity comes on line.