Challenges faced by Middle East NOCs, IOCs

Operating companies’ biggest concerns in the near term are confronting increased water cuts with declining water quality while minimizing OPEX. The Operators Panel at Produced Water Middle East focused on the strategies and spending plans in order for Kuwait Oil Company, OMV, Petroleum Development Oman, Saudi Aramco and Total to maintain optimum production rates.

Saudi Aramco

The Saudi NOC was represented by Hani Al-Khalifa, President of the Produced Water Society’s Middle East Chapter and Panel Chair. Aramco’s water cut is increasing, but for now, they are still able to reinject all the water they produce. There are several multi-billion dollar projects in the works designed to add capacity to their water handling systems. On the OPEX side, Aramco spends between $.10 to $.25 per barrel in treating water. They, like the rest of the operating companies, have to adjust rapidly to changing forecasts from subsurface teams. In fact, finding a lingua franca between the subsurface and surface teams is a passion of Al Khalifa’s, and one can only assume that striking a common vernacular between teams might improve not just understanding, but operations as a whole.


One of two International Operating Companies participating, OMV’s water strategy relies on reinjection for pressure maintenance and reservoir sweeping, as well as EOR and artificial lift. Karl Jamek was quick to state that this strategy varies depending on the location of the assets. They use artificial lift in a number of their wells, which not only increases gross production rates, but also increases water cuts. This is especially true in Austria and Romania. They are installing a water treatment facility in the North Sea, where they will blend produced water with sea water for injection.
OMV was the only operator who appeared to have automated as much as possible. They have been able to eliminate night and weekend shifts in exchange for on call personnel. These teams focus on preventative maintenance rather than responding to equipment failures. Jamek also said that OMV is trying to remove all clarifiers from their water treatment processes to save on chemical costs. Further issues of concern for the operator are oil droplet size, scale, and biological growth.


Oman’s NOC had the highest water cut of any producer on the panel. At 90% water to oil in some fields, volumes are one of the operator’s biggest concerns. Their strategy is to reinject as much of this as possible, and where it’s not possible, they move it to another well where with it is. Saada Al Shukaili, Produced Water Management Team Leader, said that in cases where a bottleneck has developed, production will be reduced or shut off.
Their reinjection rate is around 60%, and the remainder is reused in different areas and industries. They have plugging issues, which need to be dealt with rapidly. Their fields are increasingly sour and increasingly saline as production increases. With their heavy regimen of CEOR and TEOR, the subsurface water composition is constantly in flux. All of these factors, when combined with the stringent water spec for reuse, make PDO one of the most interesting operators on the panel.


The other IOC on the panel, Total targets 100% reinjection of produced water, but Patrick Baldoni-Andrey, Total’s representative, said they will likely remain at 50% for the coming years. Technical issues and rising salinity were the causes, but despite this, he was clear that Total is very good at reaching spec, even with moving targets. Salinity and solids will be the coming challenges for their onshore operations, while BTEX and dissolved organics are the anticipated issues for offshore water.
On the expenditure side, Total are upgrading their systems to treat to 30 ppm TSS and oil in water down to 5-10 ppm. The footprint, weight, and costs, Baldoni-Andrey said, are huge. Their approach to lowering OPEX was similar to a number of other operators on the panel: stop using chemicals. Total has found that teams reach a sort of treatment spiral with chemical usage and make very little forward progress with chemical treatments. Like OMV, they are also using remote monitoring to preempt equipment failure and are considering the assembly of a rapid response team.


Kuwait Oil Company’s water team work closely with the production team, but it seems they work under them. They primarily reinjection their produced water back into the formation unless it doesn’t meet spec, in which case it’s disposed of by deep well injection. Bader Al-Refaie, representing KOC on the panel, said that water quality and volumes are their biggest concerns. And with quality diminishing, volumes increasing, and unreliable data from development, KOC likely disposes of considerable volumes of water, though Al-Refaie did not provide any data about how much water goes where.
He did say that considerable operating expenses go to diesel fuel for generators and electricity consumption for powering equipment. The NOC’s procurement process sees frequent delays, which translate to production. One of the technical issues they deal with is that their filtration packages fail. Their nutshell filters, in particular, block frequently, and their backwash system does not seem to be able to properly clear the system, which leads to a system shutdown. KOC finds itself unable to inject the volumes of water necessary for optimum production due to water quality issues and stringent specs required.