Saudi Aramco Total Refining & Petrochemicals (Satorp) is half way through commissioning its refinery in Jubail, eastern Saudi Arabia, and expects it to be fully operational by the end of the year.

The $9.6bn facility, which is a joint venture between state-owned Saudi Aramco and France’s Total, will have the capacity to convert 400,000 barrels a day (b/d) of crude to refined products.

“The commissioning is half way through and the crude oil is expected to enter the refinery in the coming weeks, first to test the unit and then to properly start [operations],” Bernadette Spinoy, Total’s senior vice-president, Orient, refining & petrochemicals division, said at a conference in Paris.

Satorp is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2013 and hit full refining capacity during the fourth quarter of the year.

“[The refinery} will process heavy and sour crude that is sold on the market at a discount as it is more difficult to treat,” Spinoy said. “It is a high-conversion refinery, meaning we will not produce fuel oil… which has less value.”

The facility, which also includes petrochemicals units, will directly employ 1,200 people, with Saudi nationals making up 60 per cent of the workforce, she added.

Another Total downstream joint venture, Ras Laffan Refinery Company (RLRC) in Qatar, is expecting to award the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for its phase two expansion in the coming days.