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Fracking in high demand as Oman drills the desert for oil

The desert terrain makes drilling for oil particularly difficult Abraj Energy Services
The desert terrain makes drilling for oil particularly difficult
  • Abraj boss says oil fracking growing in popularity
  • Oil and gas provides Omani government with 70% of annual budget
  • Controversial technique has critics due to environmental impact

Oil fracking demand in Oman has proliferated in the last four years and is projected to increase further, a top executive at Abraj Energy Services has said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, is a technique for extracting oil, natural gas, geothermal energy or water from shale rock deep underground.

It involves drilling into the earth and then directing a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a rock layer to create cracks through which the oil, gas or water can move more freely. Critics say it can lead to water contamination and the triggering of earthquakes.

Salah Al Harthy, business development director at Abraj, an Omani drilling company which is a subsidiary of state-owned OQ, told AGBI: “Oil fracking prior to 2019 was only barely even five percent, compared to 95 percent gas fracking. Today we are seeing a major shift.

“Oil fracking has grown from five percent of total frack activities in Oman in 2018 to 25 percent in 2021. Fracking demand will only increase as we go forward in both oil and gas.”

Oman, the biggest oil exporter outside Opec, is home to one of the most challenging desert terrains in the Middle East.

Fracking is considered the most efficient method for accessing difficult to reach or otherwise inaccessible reserves, making it a priority technology for sustaining Oman’s hydrocarbon output.

Al Harthy said Abraj has “managed to pioneer oil fracking”.

“You can almost say we [rewrote] how to do oil fracking and now we are seeing demand is increasing not only with our main customers but also other international oil companies in the country,” he said.

Salah Al Harthy, business development director at Abraj

Abraj was the first to launch integrated fracking services in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), spearheading the development of deep tight gas wells which comprise a growing portion of Oman’s gas supply.

The company was also the first to deploy joystick controlled and disk-brake rigs, fast-moving heavy mobile rigs, and variable frequency drive rigs in Oman.

Al Harthy attributed the increasing demand to low cost and high efficiency.

“Fracking in the oil wells is becoming very cost effective to the customer in comparison to drilling a new well,” he explained. 

“It’s an easy process. It takes a shorter period of time to be able to realise new oil compared to a long process of drilling.”

Al Harthy added that, on matured fields, zones that have been producing without fracking have become damaged over time due to the production process.

“The reduction in production is becoming very obvious over time,” he said.

Fracking has been employed in the US since 1947, propelling the country’s energy sector over the past decade and overtaking Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s biggest oil producer.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, total domestic production of crude oil jumped from 5.4 million barrels a day in early 2010 to a record 13 million at the end of 2019.

In 2018 Oman’s Ministry of Oil & Gas urged the state’s energy industry to strongly explore opportunities for localising the supply chain surrounding the use of fracking to make the technology even more cost competitive and economical.

“Nothing comes close to hydraulic fracturing,” Salim bin Nasser Al Aufi, undersecretary in the Ministry of Energy and Minerals of the Sultanate of Oman, said at an industry event earlier this year.

“It changed the fundamentals of oil and gas, whether it’s on the oil side or the shale oil and gas revolution that happened in the US.”

Oil has been a mainstay of the Omani economy since the sultanate began commercial production in 1967, supporting the Gulf Arab state’s infrastructure, including electric utilities, roads, public education and medical services.

The government derives roughly 70 percent of its annual budget from oil and gas revenues through taxation and joint ownership of some of the most productive fields, and the industry accounts for 30 percent of Oman’s gross domestic product.

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