Gas trumps oil in the Middle East

10 November 2016

Three major projects have been announced this week to keep up with booming domestic demand

The fall in crude prices since the second half of 2014 has caused a significant drop in investment in new upstream oil projects across the world.

The continuing uncertainty, with Opec this week slashing its $20 a barrel off its 2020 oil prices outlook, has made the investment case for oil field developments in the Middle East more questionable.

However, gas investments in the region are a different story. Major oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE and Kuwait have all struggled to keep pace with surging gas demand over the past decade, with the latter two countries investing in assets to import liquefied natural gas (LNG).

These countries use gas in abundance to feed power plants and petrochemicals operations as well as improve crude recovery from oil fields.

The three major gas projects announced this week show the continuing prioritisation of schemes for domestic energy use.

The CEO of UK-based oil major BP was in Oman to sign off a project to expand Khazzan – the region’s largest tight gas development – by 50 per cent. The two phases are equal to 40 per cent of the sultanate’s current gas capacity and should meet demand for many years as well as allow Oman to boost LNG exports.

Meanwhile, Al-Hosn Gas, a joint venture of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and US-based Occidental Petroleum, said it plans to expand the Shah gas project – the largest sour gas development undertaken in the region.

A landmark agreement in post-sanctions Iran sees French energy group Total and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signing a heads of agreement (HoA) with National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to develop phase 11 of the South Pars offshore gas field. Both companies had previously worked on phase 11, but pulled out in 2008 and 2012 respectively.

Iran is the world’s third-largest producer of gas, but also the fourth-biggest consumer, leaving little spare capacity for exports. The country is looking to develop the South Pars field – the world’s largest – and other fields to enable it to become a major gas exporter.

Elsewhere in the region, Egypt is investing significantly in its offshore Zohr gas field, while Saudi Arabia is ramping up shale gas investment in the north of the country.

For hydrocarbons project contractors in the Middle East, the ongoing drive for gas could provide opportunities during a time of uncertainty for future oil investments.

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