Interview: Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiya

20 October 2003
As befits someone who has held Doha's energy and industry portfolio for more than a decade, drive is something Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiya has in abundance. Neither expanded responsibilities - he is now second deputy prime minister and the president of OPEC - nor the recent rapid expansion of Qatar's hydrocarbons base have weakened his resolve to do even more. 'I always believe we have to work harder to develop, as development never stops,' says the minister. 'Technology, markets, prices - they all change and you have to be able to cope with it.'

Despite having overseen, during his tenure as minister, a doubling in Qatar's oil and petrochemical capacities, the establishment of a gas export industry and the creation of the world's first commercial gas-to-liquids (GTL) venture, Al-Attiya has no thoughts of sitting back. 'I have never felt we have achieved everything. We have to work with our partners to create more triple-A projects that will positively influence the economy,' he says.

The overarching aim is to utilise the vast reserves of the North field reservoir to create a 'gas basket'. Says the minister: 'We don't want to be only an LNG [liquefied natural gas] producer, a GTL producer, a petrochemical producer or a piped gas supplier. We have to create a basket of all four. This is the way to spread the risk and to avoid fluctuations in prices.'

Diversification is not just about expanding product areas. In the LNG sector, which is set to nearly double in size over the next two years, and triple by 2010, an increasingly important goal is to enter new markets (see page 42). 'Our LNG map is now Asia, Europe and the US. We believe that a diversified market is very important to create balance,' he says.

At present, long-term offtakers of Qatari LNG are South Korea and Japan. They will soon be joined by India and, in 2005, by Italy. In 2008, Taiwan will become a customer, after Ras Laffan Liquefied Natural Gas Company (RasGas) won in July the global tender to supply Taiwan Power Company with 1.7 million tonnes a year. Then it is set to be the turn of the UK and the US. 'The US is a very important market for us. It has high consumption and we would like a share of it,' says Al-Attiya.

Qatar has already made its mark on the GTL scene this year, having seen construction start on the world's first commercial plant at Ras Laffan. The estimated $800 million Oryx GTL is likely to be the first of several at the industrial city, with five other international oil companies (IOCs) in discussion with Qatar Petroleum (QP) over GTL projects. Royal Dutch/Shell Group's proposal to build a 140,000-barrel-a-day project is the most advanced, with a production-sharing agreement (PSA) due to be signed in late October. 'The GTL committee [at QP] is working with all the others [Conoco, Marathon, ExxonMobil and ChevronSasol],' says Al-Attiya. 'For us, there is no queue or finishing line. Which one goes first will be determined by the progress each makes.'

A believer

Al-Attiya is a firm believer in GTL, even though the technology is largely unproven on a world-scale plant. 'No-one is doing this because they are in the charity business. People want to do it because they know it adds value and offers a good return,' he says. He also draws comfort from Qatar's past experience. 'People used to say that Qatar would never be in the LNG market. If I believed the analysts, I would never do anything. Today we are a leader in LNG. It will be the same in GTL.'

With the petrochemicals industry firmly established and embarking on a $2,500 million expansion programme, the one outstanding element in QP's four-pronged gas strategy is piping gas to regional neighbours. The $3,500 million Dolphin project, planned to take 2,000 million cubic feet a day (cf/d) of gas to the UAE by late 2006, is nearing implementation. The main engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) awards are expected in November and the signing of gas sales agreements by the end of the year. Plans to deliver about 1,000 million cf/d to Kuwait are less advanced. 'We have signed the term sheet with the Kuwaitis and we are ready to start supplies. But we are still awaiting permission from Saudi Arabia to run the pipeline through its territorial waters,' says Al-Attiya.

QP and its partners are facing a massive investment drive. In early 2003, officials said $24,000 million-worth of new project work would be tendered over the next five years. The sheer volume of work has raised some concerns that Doha could overload itself, although they are not shared by Al-Attiya. 'It is a very manageable programme. We have done more than $30 billion over the past 10 years,' he says. 'We are very proud of this investment and finance coming from outside to create viable projects.'

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