Qatar Petroleum (QP) has finally got the ball rolling on the long-awaited Barzan gas development scheme, issuing tenders for the offshore portion of the estimated $1.7bn scheme. After delays at the end of 2009, the four engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) deals are expected to be awarded by the end of the year.

This will be welcome news to contractors, who have been growing anxious that Qatar’s position as a hub of engineering activity in the region over the past five years had come to a halt.

Confidence has been dented over the past two years after schemes such as Barzan were delayed as QP sought to capitalise on falling costs. But if Qatar’s sticks to its long-term vision, there should be plenty of work for companies in the coming decade.

Barzan might keep contractors busy for at least five years over its three phases, but a much bigger prize will come when the moratorium on new developments on the North field is lifted.

The giant field holds some 910 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, about 20 per cent of global reserves. The abundance of reserves in the field has allowed Qatar to become the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas with output on track to top 77 million tonnes a year by the end of 2010.

But the field is off limits, until 2015 at the earliest, while QP completes a technical study. In the meantime, Qatar has focused on meeting the challenge of rising domestic consumption. Getting Barzan moving will be the first step in meeting this challenge.