The submission of front-end engineering and design tenders for Saudi Aramco’s shale gas project is evidence of the strategic importance the state-owned oil company has placed on the resource.

Shale gas has transformed the US energy market to such an extent that petrochemicals producers as well as other heavy industrial sectors are now queuing up to build facilities close to the largest shale formations.

The kingdom’s shale gas resources are not as huge as in the US, but it will still be a vital addition to the energy mix. There is also a distinct advantage of being the first mover on shale in the Middle East in that Saudi nationals will gain vital knowledge in how best to tap unconventional gas. Shale gas is far more difficult to exploit than conventional sources, so locals learning the vital skills required for successful production will put Aramco at the forefront of global gas exploration. 

The oil major had a quiet 2013, as it consolidated its vast project portfolio and commissioned several multibillion-dollar schemes. However, 2014 looks as though it will be a busy year for the world’s largest hydrocarbons company as it begins its next cycle of projects.

Shale gas is the first of several huge schemes that should really start to move in 2014. Others include the shipbuilding yard in Ras al-Khair, as well as phase 2 of the Jubail export refinery and the highly anticipated Fadhili gas plant. 

International contractors and engineering consultancies have become increasingly concerned about Saudi Arabia’s hydrocarbons project market of late, but shale gas proves there is still a lot of work out there to be won.