The Petroleum & Mineral Resources Ministry released an incentives package to bidders in September, along with Riyadh’s request for proposals and the revised completion date.

It remains unclear why the facility will take more than six years to build, and contractors say it could be built in four years if required, as stated in the ministry’s original timetable.

“We were surprised to see the new [2015] date as it seems a very conservative timeline for a refinery that could end up being 250,000 barrels a day, which is not huge by the kingdom’s standards,” says one prospective local bidder.

Bids are expected to be filed by March 2009, with an award scheduled for the second quarter of that year. The ministry’s original aim was to award the licence before the end of 2007.

It is the first time the kingdom has tried to develop such a facility without Saudi Aramco.

The ministry will hold a series of investor roadshows for oil majors in London and Singapore in November to outline its plans (MEED 31:7:08).

Five firms that have registered interest are Malaysia’s Petronas, Taiwan’s Formosa Petrochemical Corporation, India’s Reliance Industries, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and Brazil’s Petrobras. They will all have to partner with a local company on the scheme.