Saudi Aramco’s opening salvo for its non-conventional gas plans still leaves several key questions unanswered.

The initial contract due to be issued by the state-owned major will be in the north of the kingdom near the Jordanian border and will probably be a tight gas formation as opposed to shale. The gas will be utilised by the nearby phosphates city under construction at Waad al-Shamal.

An interesting omission from the initial tender is any provision for water-handling facilities of any kind. This could mean water will be trucked in or there is an available source in the region in the form of an aquifer.

An aquifer is the ideal solution, but there has been no announcement that any such underground water source even exists.  

There is no question the scheme will require a lot of water and it could mean Aramco intends to tender water supply pipelines and pumping stations independently. There has been no comment regarding this as yet, but without water there can be no gas.  

Aramco’s initial plans look to call for 50 million cubic feet a day (cf/d) of gas, but the scope of works indicates there could be a further 200 million cf/d to come. The exact time scale of when these additional facilities is still not known, but Aramco will have to move quickly if it intends to provide 200 million cf/d to Waad al-Shamal by 2018.

Despite the challenges, the news that Aramco is moving forward with its non-conventional plans is extremely encouraging.  Gas is a domestic priority and, as with so many difficult projects, once the first is executed successfully many are soon to follow.

Aramco has a knack of pushing through difficult schemes successfully where others would walk away. Exploiting tight gas in a remote location by the Jordanian border sounds exactly like one of these projects.