Saudi Aramco is to split its 500,000-barrel-a-day (b/d) Khursaniyah oil field development into two separate phases in an effort to reach a fresh deadline of the end of August.

The first train of 250,000 b/d is now expected by the end of June, while the second and final train of 250,000 b/d is expected to follow four to six weeks later.

Aramco has given Italy’s Snamprogetti a deadline of the end of August for the final sign-off on its work on the scheme.

The project, which has already been delayed from the original December 2007 deadline, is on track to produce its first oil by mid-July, following mechanical completion by Snamprogetti on a central gas-oil separation plant and wet-crude handling facility.

The facility was originally expected to be completed by early April but was delayed because of a shortage of skilled labour.

It has emerged that gas from the plant will initially be reinjected back into the Khursaniyah oil field rather than flared, as Aramco is keen to avoid the environmental damage from burning off the gas.

About 300 million cubic feet a day (cf/d) of gas from three areas of Khursaniyah will be processed once the central gas processing plant, which has a capacity of 1 billion cf/d, is completed later this year.

The main Khursaniyah gas plant has also been delayed, partly because it was one of the first to be awarded by Aramco on a convertible lump-sum turnkey basis, in 2005. US-based Bechtel and France’s Technip took longer than expected to reach agreement with Aramco to convert the lar-gest contract on the development to a lump-sum turnkey basis (MEED 27:7:07).

Under the original plan, conversion was expected to take place once 50-60 per cent of the engineering had been completed. Aramco was understood to have agreed a final price of $3.6bn with Bechtel and Technip.

One executive close to the Khursaniyah project says the first train on the gas plant is now due to be commissioned in October, with the following two trains to be delivered by December or January 2009.

The Berri gas plant, which handles output from the Qatif field and has capacity to process 1.24 billion cf/d of gas, was previously discussed as an alternative to processing gas from Khursaniyah. However, Aramco decided not to make a last-minute switch because of the existing delays.

The Hawiyah gas plant was also considered as a back-up but its own expansion to 2.4 billion cf/d from 1.6 billion cf/d is running behind schedule, with a July deadline now expected to be missed (MEED 20:6:08).

Amin al-Nasser, senior vice-president for exploration and production at Saudi Aramco, says the full 500,000-b/d increment from Khursaniyah will be ready to come on stream in August.

“Even with a slight delay, it took 41 months from start to finish compared with the world average of 53 months [for a project of this size],” says Al-Nasser. “Khursaniyah is doing very well.”