The Middle East oil and gas sector - combining talent and technology

Paul Boughton

How can the Middle East's oil and gas operators capitalise on the strong and growing demand for energy across the region, compete positively against their rivals and ensure that they get a significant slice of market share? Mohamed Ghuloom reports.

The oil and gas industry forms the foundation of economies throughout the Middle East. Recent analysis indicates that the region's exporters account for roughly 40 per cent of oil and 20 per cent of natural gas traded internationally. There is strong and growing demand for energy across the region. So, how can the region's operators capitalise on this positive outlook, compete positively against their rivals and ensure that they get a significant slice of market share?

At Bapco, we believe the answer lies in developing a powerful blend of talent and technology. One of our core strategic objectives is to continue to build a skilled and motivated workforce. Recruiting the right people can be challenging. There are technical graduates that have sufficient skills, but unfortunately many have been lured away from the process industries by higher pay packages elsewhere. Training is, therefore, vital in our industry. Investment in job-specific training has shown to drive employee motivation and good training needs be targeted not just at young recruits, but also at older and more experienced staff. Yet, if oil and gas operators are to optimse the way they do business and drive commercial advantage, investment in people needs to be matched by investment in technology solutions across the entire operation.[Page Break]

Software solutions

Operators should review software products on their merits. In the process industry there is a strong preference to implement proven technology that not only meets business objectives, but also demonstrates robust and secure benefits. Ideally, to meet their commercial goals, operators need specialist software - rather than solutions that are bundled in with hardware simply to ease the sales process. Operationally, most oil and gas providers in the Middle East share the same strategic focus. There is an ongoing emphasis on achieving energy efficient operations and delivering reduced environmental impact. Herein, software application tools can support this requirement. Typically, there are stringent performance targets to meet. Feed maximisation is an important metric in the wider industry. At Bapco, for example, our prime focus is based more on guaranteeing reliability with achieving a minimum level of unplanned shutdowns and delivering against product quality specifications, which are both seen as key operational metrics.

We are now actively using optimisation software from AspenTech, a leading software provider in engineering, manufacturing and supply chain sectors. More specifically, Aspen HYSYS is the modelling tool Bapco uses for conceptual design, optimisation, business planning, asset management and performance monitoring for oil & gas production, gas processing, petroleum refining. Aspen PIMS also helps Bapco facilitate enterprise-wide planning through optimisation of feedstock evaluation, product slate production, plant design and operations, enabling its plants to run at maximum efficiency and profitability. Powerful analytics offered with the software facilitate better and faster evaluation of feedstocks that enable capture of market opportunities in a timely manner.

Oil and gas operators in the region are increasingly investing in automated Advanced Process Control (APC) solutions that help to reduce workload on plants and drive up operational efficiency and profit margins. APC can assist significantly with change in the plant. This is important because APC is an automatic process that assesses every minute of the quality of products produced, temperatures, pressures, flows and having a predictive, multi-variable model of control on a closed loop process. APC will help decision-makers within the plant to react to change as best as possible.[Page Break]

Looking ahead

With globalisation and market volatility, the oil and gas margins are diminishing. In the future, software tools and packages will need to be further integrated into operators' working practices and IT infrastructures, so that users waste less time moving data into different formats. This needs to be in line with a general push towards ramping up levels of automation on their plants. Simulation software will become more sophisticated.

Indeed, software solutions are likely to become ever more important to the region's operators. Companies are increasingly realising that without the right software they are likely to miss out on commercial opportunities to optimise processes. Business operates in an incredibly challenging and highly capital-intensive, energy consuming environment. Owner operators need to make sound judgments on design options for their asset investment decisions. As industry leaders seek to successfully make the most of their existing assets and maximise the potential of their resources, a combined investment strategy of talent and leading-edge technology will help to achieve commercial goals in a highly competitive marketplace.

Mohamed Ghuloom is General Manager, Engineering, Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), Awali, Bahrain.

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