The two consortiums are Sino Saudi Gas, a joint venture of China’s Sinopec and Saudi Aramco; and EniRepSa, which includes Italy’s Eni, Spain’s Repsol and Aramco.

They have followed the lead of the South Rub al-Khali (Srak) exploration company, which earlier this year requested an extension, blaming terrorist activities in 2004 for putting its activities behind schedule.

An industry source says the two consortiums were hopeful of securing more time in which to explore their vast acreage.

“They realise that the kingdom may be sympathetic to their request because of course there is still this massive need for gas and it is not going away,” says the source.

Srak submitted a letter to the Petroleum & Mineral Resources Ministry in August but has yet to receive a response, although it remains hopeful of an extension.

The other joint venture in the area, of Aramco and Russia’s Lukoil, is on schedule, according to an executive involved in the project, and does not anticipate needing additional time.

The kingdom suffered a spate of Al-Qaeda attacks in May 2004 killing 19 foreigners. Western oil majors including the UK/Dutch Shell Group, one of the joint venture partners in Srak, was forced to relocate some of its Saudi staff.

Last week, MEED revealed that none of the consortiums had received positive results from the initial phase of drilling. (MEED 2:11:07).