In early 2005, Aramco approached up to 10 IOCs to gauge their interest in taking an equity stake in the 400,000-b/d export refinery to be located at Yanbu, on the Rea Sea. About eight companies are understood to have responded to the initial inquiry. They are ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corporationand ExxonMobil Corporation, all of the US, the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, France’s Total, the UK’s BP, Italy’s Eniand China’s Sinopec.

Industry sources say that Aramco plans to fast-track the proposed Yanbu project, with a tender due to be issued for the front-end loading (FEL) package. The next stage in the project implementation will be the issue of tenders for detailed cost analysis and process design.

Aramco is also proposing to carry out the Jubail 2 export refinery project in joint venture with IOCs. Independently, Parsons E&C, part of Australia’s WorleyParsons, is due to submit by mid-September a feasibility study to Aramco for construction of the refineries. The study is expected to recommend the utilisation of three process streams to be driven by a varying mix of feedstock.

Both projects will involve the installation of naphtha hydrotreaters and splitters, twin catalytic reformers, isomerisation units, distillate hydrotreaters, vacuum distillation units, hydrocrackers and fluid catalytic crackers (FCCs).

The facilities will take about three years to build and are set to produce clean fuels, which are increasingly in high demand due to tighter product specifications in key export markets. The products will include gasoline, diesel, petroleum coke, bitumen and vacuum gas oil (VGO). Both refineries will primarily target exports to Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean.

Aramco already has two joint venture refinery projects in the kingdom, one with ExxonMobil in Yanbu, the other with Shell in Jubail.