We recently had the opportunity to visit the Saudi Aramco facility at Shaybah. Shaybah is located in the heart of the Rub al-Khali, the largest sand desert in the world, literally a sea of sand. It occupies one-fifth of the Arabian Peninsula. It is one of the most inhospitable places on the planet and is home to the bedouins who have skillfully survived in this harsh landscape for thousands of years and still live much as they have since time immorial.
Since 1998, Saudi Aramco has operated an oil facility in Shaybah to tap the Shaybah oilfield. The area consists of huge sand dunes, some as high as 1,000 feet with sub flat hardened subcas between the dunes. When the company built the facility, it had to build a road through this harsh climate with all construction materials being transported from Dhahran, 800 Kilometers away. A 650 kilometer pipeline connects the oil pumped at Shaybah to processing facilities 650 kilometers away. In order to build the pipeline, the Company had to slant drill through the dunes in order to lay the pipeline through the dunes. The pipeline consistes of over 17,000 pipe segments with over 32,000 welds. The oil that is pumped from Shaybah is Arab Extra-Light. Arab Extra-Light is such a high grade of crude that it can be placed directly into a diesel engine without any further refining with the engine just running hot. That's pretty amazing! The engineering required to develop the Shaybah field is unbelievable.
Trips to Shaybah always fill up fast so when the Saudi Aramco Employees Association announced it was taking a trip there, we put our names in to get on the lottery to be picked for the trip. Luckily, we got to go! On the morning of the trip, a bus took us out to the Saudi Aramco hangar and we then boarded one of the Company's 737s for the 45 minute flight south. We flew over Bahrain and then down past Qatar and the UAE.
The landscape almost looks otherworldly. It is hard to imagine a harsher environment. We toured the residential area and then went to a rig where a new well was being drilled. When the well is completed, it will be able to produce 5,000 barrels of crude per day, just from one well! After seeing the rig, we drove up to the top of a dune to watch a movie on the history of Shaybah. Then we got to explore the red dunes. We had a wonderful meal on a outside patio overlooking the residential camp below before loading back onto the plane for our return flight home. Not too bad for a day trip!