Industry: Ras Tanura's integrated outlook

30 June 2007
As head of the Ras Tanura integrated refinery and petrochemicals project at Saudi Aramco, Fayaz al- Sharef is responsible for the biggest single industrial project in history.

“Historically, it has been slow progress to reach where we are today. Although there has been a lot of activity over the past five years, we would have preferred it to have happened earlier. Nonetheless, it is always better late than never.

“Within the past five years, we have come to realise we are blessed with a finite national resource and we cannot expect feedstocks to last forever. Demand is growing: the world-scale plants of 10 years ago are considered small today so the pressures on feedstock are greater than they have ever been.

“One of the biggest challenges we face going forward is the development of a downstream plastics industry. There are people who think it is not worthwhile, but we have to think long-term. It takes five or six years for the infrastructure to be put in place and then a further 10-15 years for the sector to grow, so it is important to do things now as there is no time to waste.

“Moreover, 25-30 years ago everyone said the region should not monetise gas because we were too far from the customer. The industry is maturing so we have to find a way that makes economic sense. We will not be able to compete with China in some products and markets because of the labour costs, but with certain products we can be competitive. Ultimately, we have cheaper feedstock and energy. But we have to be focused.

“Long term, there is a common interest between the chemical and oil industries. We need to look at ways of turning oil to chemicals but not necessarily through refining. And the chemical industry needs to look at ways of turning chemicals to oil.

Consolidation is another interesting dynamic. There are so many potential synergies for the regional industry. For example, it would be very interesting if we had an ethylene network like the US connecting the Gulf states.”

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