With the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) holding its Annual Technology Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) for the first time ever in the Middle East, the event’s conference program chairman, Khalid Zainalabedin of Saudi Aramco, discusses the main issues with E&P Editor-in-Chief Mark Thomas.

E&P: ATCE’s overall theme is “E&P 2.0—Transforming and Shaping the Future.” What’s the main message?

Zainalabedin: Based on input from the industry, the theme was selected to align with SPE’s global strategies to take the society to the next level. With the ongoing big crew change of demographic shift, technology advancement, unconventional resources and emphasis on social and environmental responsibilities, our business is at a critical stage, and it needs to be transformed for a brighter future.

The theme is especially timely in the current volatile oil price environment, demanding all businesses to transform to improve efficiency with more collaboration and adaption of new cost-effective technologies and best practices.

E&P: Which upstream technologies highlighted at the event could be of most importance to the Middle East region as a whole?

Zainalabedin: There will be many upstream technologies the Middle East region can benefit from at the event to transform and shape our future. Unconventional resources E&P and EOR are two good examples. On the other hand, others also could benefit from the region’s best-in-class technologies and practices already applied in our giant reservoirs. Learning goes both ways, and networking, knowledge sharing and collaboration are the keys for the success of our industry.

E&P: There is a strong theme of innovation and collaboration running throughout the conference program, but innovation has always been a vital part of the oil and gas industry. How has the industry downturn increased the importance of collaboration in driving fresh innovation?

Zainalabedin: Great challenges provide great opportunities. Strong players will always emerge from difficult situations such as the current low oil price environment stronger through collaboration and innovation. There is no other way around it. A main objective of this conference is to provide a platform for technology companies to showcase their innovations so that operating companies can leverage new technologies to improve performance and reduce cost. Innovation makes us more efficient, and collaboration produces synergy that results in cost saving, both important especially in an industry downturn.

E&P: Which emerging production technologies have the most potential for practical applications in the Middle East?

Zainalabedin: There are many, but a good example is the emerging smart digital field technologies for optimized reservoir management, which will be covered on the first day of the conference.

E&P: What role will unconventional technologies play in the region’s future? How much of the experience learned in the U.S. is applicable in the region?

Zainalabedin: Unconventional resources in the Middle East region are very promising, and unconventional gas could be an important resource for regional consumption. Unlike conventional resources, unconventional E&P is still in its infant stage because of the abundant availability of conventional production. Unconventional technologies developed elsewhere can be readily customized
and adapted in the Middle East.

E&P: Enhanced efficiency across the E&P sector has been a major focus over the past two years. How competitive is the Middle East in terms of its production and operating efficiencies, and what is being done to further improve its performance?

Zainalabedin: Operating efficiency is a necessity for optimal field production. We are always looking to improve efficiency and performance through innovation and collaboration.

E&P: Are there enough new ideas and radical thinking being introduced to the oil and gas industry? Could more be done to bring in technologies and solutions from other industries?

Zainalabedin: There have been countless radical innovative ideas and technologies introduced to the oil and gas industry such as nanotechnology, Big Data analytics and deepwater marine engineering. More are still needed to do more with less, and this will be discussed in depth at a panel session titled ‘Radical Ideas: Innovation Beyond the Limits.’

Operating efficiency is a necessity for optimal field production, according to Zainalabedin, with Saudi Aramco ‘always looking to improve efficiency and performance through innovation and collaboration,’ such as the brownfield work it is carrying out this year to upgrade several of its offshore Marjan Field platforms. (Source: Saudi Aramco)

E&P: How important is the advance of EOR/IOR solutions to the major Middle East producing nations? With such large hydrocarbon reserves and so many mature fields, is EOR/IOR more important than exploration at the present time?

Zainalabedin: The majority of Middle East reservoirs are not at the EOR/IOR stage yet, and with best-in-class reservoir management practices and technology advancement, the timing for expensive EOR/IOR operations can still be delayed. But eventually EOR/IOR solutions will need to be implemented, and the potential is huge. Optimizing existing reservoir performance and exploring for new discoveries are equally important; one for today and the other for tomorrow.

E&P: There are a growing number of industry-supported technology partnerships, alliances and joint ventures with Middle East operators aimed at facilitating and developing region-specific technologies while sharing R&D costs. Is this a trend that will continue to grow?

Zainalabedin: Again, collaboration and innovation are critically important for development of cost-effective customized solutions. I believe this win-win collaboration trend will continue here in the region as well as globally.

E&P: Developing the next generation of talent has been a constant issue for the global E&P industry but perhaps never more than today, when so many other more glamorous options are out there for young people to consider. With the long-term strategic, economic and cultural role that oil and gas plays in the Middle East, does the region find it easier than other parts of the world to persuade its young generation to consider it as a worthy and fulfilling career? Or does the problem of competing with other industries for the best diversified talent apply just the same?

Zainalabedin: Developing and preparing young talent for the 21st century’s economy is at the heart of businesses in the Middle East. There are many other interesting options for the young to choose from, and it is up to us to attract them to join us for the bright tomorrow. So far we have been successful, and there are panels as well as special sessions at the conference to address young professional development such as the ‘How is Academia Managing in a Cyclic Environment?’ and ‘The Next Generation (YP 2.0): Talent Management for Future Energy’ [sessions].

E&P: What is the significance of the ATCE event being held in the Middle East for the first time in its long history?

Zainalabedin: It is significant to SPE and equally to the Middle East for the association to hold its flagship event in the region due to the fact that it is the center of world energy, with dominating positions in conventional reserves and also promising unconventional resources. The regional SPE sections and chapters are also one of the best in terms of membership and professional development activities. To have ATCE in the Middle East, the first time outside of North America and Europe, demonstrates very well that SPE is truly an international organization.

Contact the author, Mark Thomas, at mthomas@hartenergy.com.