UAE's Adnoc takes Middle East lead in fracking for gas

Exclusive: Abu Dhabi National Oil Company stepped up use of hydraulic fracturing technology last month in the Al Dhafra region

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The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company stepped up the use of hydraulic fracturing technology in October, putting the UAE at the forefront in the Middle East in terms of exploring for gas onshore via "fracking", as it seeks to achieve gas self-sufficiency.

The state-owned energy producer carried out a new phase of fracking activity at wells in the western, Al Dhafra region of the emirate.  A number of wells were drilled by Adnoc Drilling in the Jurassic Diyab formation and the hydraulic fracturing to complete them was carried out by Baker Hughes. Tight organic-rich carbonate rock is typical of what is found in the UAE.

“We are doing the first fracture job [of this new phase] in the Diyab formation in the Ruwais area on a gas well using Baker Hughes. We are not talking about something in the distant future, we have already engaged [in stepping up activity],” said Abdulmunim Al Kindy, head of upstream at Adnoc.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Machinery used for drilling oil at the ADNOC headquarters, on February 25, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)

The company began its initial fracking activity in the Diyab formation in 2016 and is now confident it has removed sufficient risk to increase the further application of the technology.

A new appraisal of potential gas production levels for the Ruwais wells is expected by the end of next month, which will further confirm if the availability is in commercial quantities.

In the United States, the technique -  which involves injecting water and solid materials at high-pressure to open up very dense rocks - has made producing "tight" oil and gas derived from shale rock viable. The method sparked a drilling boom that enabled the US to drastically reduce its need for imports, allowing it to export crude and reduce the price of petrol at the pumps.


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Fracturing jobs are typically conducted in separate stages over several weeks - about 20 stages – and the process includes microseismic monitoring to identify the sweet spots to maximise production potential.

An appraisal of potential gas production levels for the Ruwais wells is expected by the end of next month, which will confirm if the availability is in commercial quantities.

Fracking activity is part of an unconventional oil and gas exploration and appraisal programme that Adnoc announced a year ago, and should reach full momentum by 2021 in terms of efficiency and the fracking learning curve. The process aims to ensure the company can competitively meet the UAE’s growing demand for gas. The unconventional activities complement existing gas production and new resources, including sour gas and gas cap development.

This week, Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council announced new discoveries of gas, totalling 15 trillion standard cubic feet, which adds 7.1 per cent to the emirate’s total proved reserves.

Gas is being produced in Oman from fracking, according to BP, and other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, have made progress in tapping unconventional resources of oil and gas but are reportedly yet to move beyond studying or limited testing of the potential for fracking. Bahrain’s discovery earlier this year of at least 80 billion barrels of tight oil was offshore.

Adnoc and Baker Hughes signed a strategic partnership agreement in October. Baker Hughes will acquire a five per cent stake in Adnoc Drilling. Courtesy Adnoc

US oil services provider Baker Hughes, which bought a $550 million (Dh2.02 billion) 5 per cent stake in Adnoc's drilling subsidiary last month, should be able to fast track Abu Dhabi's fracking capabilities and give a boost to the commercial potential of these unconventional resources by reducing costs. The Diyab fracture job was awarded to Baker Hughes separate to, and before, the conclusion of the Adnoc Drilling partnership deal.

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