Saudi Aramco aims to lead in new technology

Growing opportunities offshore and onshore have pushed the world’s largest oil company to get into the driver’s seat on technology research.

A Saudi Aramco executive told attendees at the Offshore Technology Conference that the company was no longer going to leave it to other energy giants to direct research that influences oil and gas production.

“We are pushing forward from a traditional role as buyer and consumer of technology to our own global technology and R&D strategy,” said Khaled Buraik, vice president of petroleum engineering and development for Saudi Aramco, referring to a new research and development approach. “We envision becoming an enabler and center of new technologies in the business that we do.”

Saudi Aramco Vice President of Petroleum Engineering & Development Khaled Buraik speaks during the Saudi Aramco's Enhanced Upstream Technology Strategy topical luncheon at OTC 2013 at Reliant Park Monday, May 6, 2013, in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle )

Saudi Aramco Vice President of Petroleum Engineering & Development Khaled Buraik speaks during the Saudi Aramco’s Enhanced Upstream Technology Strategy topical luncheon at OTC 2013 at Reliant Park Monday, May 6, 2013, in Houston. ( James Nielsen / Houston Chronicle )

The difference is important, Buraik said, since many of the leading companies funding research have pursued technology that can be applied and marketed to customers worldwide, rather than perhaps investing in new approaches that could dramatically improve production in a specific field.

Exclusive: Saudi Aramco CEO Says Cyber Risks High for Oil and Gas Companies

“I see that there is a huge opportunity for technology develop actually to address our unique situations and our very generous reservoirs…that we have,” Buraik said. “I think the need is there and I hope our resources and scientists can even keep up with the demand.”

The company is establishing five new technology centers to push its new research agenda, the largest of which is under construction in Houston, he said.

“It’s going to have the highest number of researchers and scientists and it will be a fully equipped research center,” Buraik said.

The company’s current technology research has led it to experiment with the use of nanoparticles, which U.S. companies are testing as well.

Offshore: Saudi Aramco begins production at mammoth field

Nanoparticles mixed in with drilling muds and other fluids can be made to carry a specific magnetic signature or use another method of “fingerprinting.” Sending them into a reservoir through an injection well can help researchers understand how to best improve production, while also allowing them to track the flow of a well. They can also help with modeling of a reservoir, Buraik said.

Simulation and modeling is another huge effort that Saudi Aramco is attempting to advance, he said.

The company’s goal is to discover technologies that will help it to get more out of reservoirs in a shorter period of time, Buraik said.

He also said the company was beginning to shift its attention to shale prospects within Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of hydrocarbons, putting out more oil and gas than Exxon Mobil, Chevron and BP combined. But it has so far not pursued shale oil and gas deposits, which are believed to be in huge supply.

“The pursuit of the unconventional gas is one of our most exciting new efforts,” Buraik said.
He detailed three regions of Saudi Arabia where the company has focused its initial shale efforts.