Abdulla Al-Sumait, deputy CEO, South and East Kuwait, Kuwait Oil Company, spoke exclusively to Pipeline about the significance of the giant Burgan field which is at the centre of Kuwait's oil industry.
He is the deputy chief executive officer for Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) in charge of the South and East Kuwait Asset, which comprises the oil and gas fields in the greater area of Burgan, Ahmadi and Magwa.
"In this role I am responsible for the production of the asset, and have the privilege of leading a very energetic and progressive team composed of five groups that comprise 23 teams: fields development, operations (East Kuwait); operations (South Kuwait), operations support and support services."
He added: "I am a mechanical engineer, and started in KOC back in 1986, in the maintenance group of East Kuwait, precisely in South and East Asset."
Pipeline Magazine: What is the significance of the giant Burgan field to Kuwait's oil industry?
Burgan is at the very centre of Kuwait's oil industry. It plays a fundamentally strategic role as a supergiant oilfield due to its huge reserves, which enables the sustainability of Kuwait as an oil producer on the world energy stage.
Historically, Burgan has acted as a swing producer to meet the market requirement for Kuwait, guaranteeing those are systematically met, which has established and maintained Kuwait's high reputation as a reliable supplier. We make sure to take care of Burgan with a reservoir management approach, as it provides the most important volume of oil produced from all assets of the Kuwait oil sector: up to 60 per cent of all production of KOC.
I would highlight that it is precisely the discovery of oil back in the 1930's and 1940's in Burgan that brought the world's attention to Kuwait's huge oil reserves, launching our story as an oil producing country. The modern era of our country literally started with the discovery of Burgan.
PM: Do you feel there are untapped resources in the giant Burgan field?
We are currently producing 1.73 MMBOPD, and our targets follow Kuwait Petroleum Corporation guidelines, ensuring sound practices of reservoir management.
The resources of oil and gas in supergiant Burgan, are distributed across many reservoirs. With new technologies we will be able to unlock even more reserves and incremental production for a long while. Additionally, exploration and appraisal activities continue to find new opportunities which when evaluated may further expand our resource base.
PM: What are the main challenges of developing the Burgan field?
Our challenges keep changing as we go through the life cycle of the different reservoirs in the field.
Parts of the field are relatively mature and the main challenge is to access the remaining oil and to manage the increasing volumes of produced water. Other parts are still at an early stage and require further appraisal to fully access their reserves. We also have medium mature reservoirs that have not been fully exploited and require water injection to support their pressures in order to produce significant volumes. The combination of managing a giant field at multiple stages in it life cycle is both challenging and interesting. If life did not have variety, it would be very boring.
Being a mature field we face the normal issues of surface congestion and a need for a continuous programme of facility and network upgrades to meet the challenges of increasing water. Further reservoir developments also need construction of new facilities for massive injection plants and a parallel infrastructure of injection manifolds and flow lines. We are also increasing production from our sour crude reservoirs and these need specialised facilities, infrastructure and management systems. As mentioned earlier we are managing new developments alongside maturing reservoirs and it is all about smart and timely integration of subsurface, drilling and surface challenges.
One of the first things I did was to create an organisation where integration of our business is central to everything we do. We call it the 'Integrated Business Management' (IBM). It is only as we go beyond the boundaries that we build around us, that we really make a difference.
PM: What management strategy have you brought to the Deputy CEO role since taking over?
For S&EK Asset, I am proud to have envisioned a number of strategies and actions that resulted in step changes in performance and enabled the asset to act with a coherent approach, delivering the expected results and achieving high production targets never before achieved in the recent history of Burgan.
Firstly, the leadership of the asset was reassigned, and in the process, six new teams were launched, expanding and further customising our leadership team. Additionally, to integrate and anticipate all our activities, we launched the S&EK IBM , to align and integrate all asset's activities in the short, mid, and long-term timeframes, to ensure achieving our targets. The new leadership and the IBM in SEK were instrumental to overcome many challenges derived by a higher-than-expected water cut in the production, applying remediation and acceleration measures for subsurface and surface projects.
I consider the IBM to be the most important strategy at the asset level during my tenure so far.
PM: What breakthrough technology are you using on the Burgan field?
We are one of the very few companies in the world who are considering application of EOR early in our reservoir development plan. This will greatly improve the economics of our resource extraction as well as provide additional production early in the field life. One of the key benefits of early EOR is not just deferred water production but reduced wastage of water in injection and production facilities. KOC is very progressive as a company to champion such initiatives early in field development in order to access more value in the life of the field.
The Digital Oilfield pilots have been a great success and we have plans in progress to extend this to the rest of the field.
Several years of effort has been spent in building one of the largest geocellular and reservoir simulating models in the world to characterise Burgan reservoirs. These modelling activities have been fundamental to driving our life of field strategy and readiness for the future challenges.
Throughout the producing value chain of this giant field we have encouraged and trialled initiatives to test new technologies so that we may improve efficiencies in extracting our resources.
PM: How important are the people working on the field to the success of the project? Do you have a wide range of people working on the field?
All people in the South and East Kuwait asset are important for our success, in the offices, for studies, plans and engineering studies as well as in the field. We have around 1,500 employees working in Burgan directly that cover technical services needed, from drilling to surveillance, from contracts to human resources administration, from HSE to financial services, all working towards common objectives.
We also have contractors who work with us as consultants for study teams, envisioning projects, in engineering and yes, in the field as wells. We have an extensive network of surface facilities that are workforce-intensive, consisting of 14 gathering centres, two effluent water plants, one water injection plant and then gas booster stations, fire stations and more, to be able to produce 1.7 MMBOPD. I am particularly proud of our people, as it is thanks to them that we deliver our production target every single day.
PM: How important is maintenance and safety to maintain a field effectively?
Our priority is the safety of our employees and our facilities. Just as we care for the health of our employees, with yearly medical check-ups, and complete medical assistance services, we also cater for our facilities in the field, with a complete maintenance programme, which ensures we count with reliable and, most importantly, safe facilities, to operate within the highest international standards of HSE. We do not want to risk lives or incur the high costs of having to close a facility in the field, like a gathering centre due to unwanted emergencies due to an inferior-quality maintenance.
As an engineer who started my career in maintenance, I am glad that the emphasis on maintenance and safety is genuine.
PM: Will the low oil price environment have an impact on the field's capex?
For now, KOC has not cut the level of investment in the projects for SEK. But this does not mean that our plans are unchanged. We constantly review priorities on where to invest and there is increasing focus on value and driving efficiencies. The issue is not about cost reduction; it is all about smart investment decisions.
PM: Where do you see Kuwait oil industry going and what is its standing now?
The Kuwait oil industry is maintaining its status as a reliable supplier, and will evolve towards a more diverse portfolio, including heavy oil and gas. The future of the energy sector will surely continue to include the State of Kuwait as a main player.
Kuwait has been blessed with an abundant resource of oil and gas. These resources have been historically in very easy to access reservoirs, with relatively low development cost per barrel.
The future brings increasing challenges in extracting the remaining resources and tougher new resources like heavy oil, deep and sour gas. Even so, the technology to extract the tougher oil and gas is well established and our operating environment makes it more economic to develop compared to other parts of the world.