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62-year-old super-giant Ghawar oil field as productive as ever

Written by Brett Fischbuch and Tom Keith

Left top: A July 25, 1948, lab report strongly indicated the presence of hydrocarbons at Ain Dar. Left middle: A June 12, 1951, ow-test report on Ghawars rst well, at Ain Dar, was very promising. Left bottom: Legendary Bedouin guide Khamis bin Rimthan was instrumental in guiding Aramco geologists to potential well sites throughout the Eastern Province. Above: a map showing the location of Ghawar discovery wells west of the Arabian Gulf.

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The debut discoveries, following the signing of an exploration concession agreement between Saudi Arabia and Standard Oil Of California (Socal) in 1933, were at Dammam (1938), Abu Hadriyah (March 1940) and Abqaiq (December 1940). These successes led in less than a decade to the astounding realization that a number of apparently independent, commercially viable oil elds were, in fact, all part of one mind-bending megaeld Ghawar. Ghawar is divided into ve areas, discovered individually: Ain Dar (1948), Haradh (1949 located in the southernmost part of the eld), Uthmaniyah (1951), Shedgum (1952) and Hawiyah (1953). The giant reservoir is 280 kilometers long and 40 km wide, encompassing 1.3 million acres. Saudi Aramco continues to pump about 5 million barrels of Arabian Light crude oil from Ghawar reservoirs every day. It also pumps 2.5 billion cubic feet per day (cfd) of natural gas from the eld in association with the production of oil, and another 4 billion cfd of non-associated gas, produced from independent gas reservoirs beneath but not part of Ghawars oil-bearing formations. So, by all measures, Ghawar the crown jewel for Saudi Aramco and the Kingdom is an awesome asset. Ghawar has all the right stuff to be a super producer: high porosity of its reservoir rock, which means theres an abundance of

rock pores, or spaces, for holding oil; high permeability, meaning many natural channels allowing oil to ow through the rock; valuable light rather than heavy oil; and high recovery potential. The original realization of Ghawars existence was a kind of educated hunch. In 1940, while the Abqaiq prospect was being drilled, a young geologist Ernie Berg was spending his second eld season mapping adjacent quadrangles on the edge of the great Rub Al-Khali desert, or Empty Quarter. Berg mapped the dry river bed known as Wadi Sahaba in the Haradh area and noticed that it took a sharp turn to the south from its normal east-west course for no reason apparent to the naked eye. After measuring and plotting a large enough area to see a trend, it became apparent that the wadi was diverted by a broad, low-relief dome, the surface expression of a much larger subsurface dome or anticline. Aramco geologist Max Steineke, who was the driving force behind the companys rst commercial discovery two years earlier at Well No. 7 in Dammam, came into camp the next day and agreed with Berg that the Haradh structure was potentially signicant. In fact, it turned out that Bergs map was the rst to delineate a structure in the Ghawar eld and was therefore what geologists would call the discovery map for that eld. With

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the onset of World War II, the difculties of getting supplies and the loss of men to the war effort, wildcat drilling was suspended. However, a shallow-drilling campaign designed to conrm geologic structures based on Bergs and other geologists maps was continued. The shallow drilling conrmed Bergs subsurface anticline at Haradh and was continued northward, conrming a continuous anticline stretching from Haradh to Ain Dar and Shedgum. This anticline was dubbed the En Nala anticline, meaning The Slippers. After World War II and with the resumption of drilling, the most obvious location to resume wildcat drilling was the Ain Dar structure because of its proximity to producing facilities at Abqaiq. Ain Dar No. 1 was completed in July 1948 and put on production in early 1951 at an extraordinary rate of 15,600 barrels per day (bpd) of dry oil, meaning without water contamination. Ain Dar No. 1 was a signicant discovery for Aramco, but nobody knew how signicant it would become. Although a number of structures with apparent closure had been delineated, and at least Ain Dar had proven to be oil-lled, nobody openly suggested that the En Nala anticline would prove to be one continuous eld. Aramco engineers wanted to drill a step-out well, Ain Dar No. 2, about 12 km south of Ain Dar No. 1, but Steineke argued that the next well should be 185 km to the south on the Haradh structure rst mapped by Ernie Berg nine years earlier. Steineke prevailed. Haradh No. 1 was a successful wildcat drilled in 1949. Next came Uthmaniyah No. 1, which was drilled in 1951. The Shedgum No. 1 discovery well was drilled in 1952, followed by Hawiyah No. 1 in 1953. Ain Dar No. 1, Shedgum

No. 1, Haradh No. 1 and Hawiyah No. 1 are still producing today. These discoveries pointed toward the existence of one continuous reservoir with a common oil/water contact, which was designated as Ghawar Field in 1952. Ghawar the Bedouin originally called the pasturage area El Ghawar remains the largest single oil eld on Earth. Not only is Saudi Aramco getting most of its daily oil production from Ghawar but also most of its daily rawgas feed. The elds production reached a zenith of 5.7 million bpd by 1981 a world record for continuous production in a single eld but output was reduced later that decade due to declining demand. Still, the elds current, sustained 5 million bpd output is unrivaled. Since its discovery, enormous Ghawar has kept oil experts on their toes. In mid-2007, the Ghawar Integrated Assessment and New Technology (GIANT) team, an interdepartmental group working on a long-term, visionary endeavor to better understand and characterize the oil eld, came across an interesting nding while looking at ways to maximize the reservoirs oil recovery percentage. The researchers found an extensive micro-pore system of hidden passages in carbonate rock, where a signicant percentage of unrecovered oil resides. Today, the GIANT team is analyzing this newfound potential and nding ways to tap into the as-yet untapped world below.

Chart above shows the accumulative oil production over the years of Ghawars ve discovery wells.
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After World War II and with the resumption of drilling, the most obvious location to resume wildcat drilling was the Ain Dar structure because of its proximity to producing facilities at Abqaiq. Ain Dar No. 1 was drilled in 1948 and owed oil to the surface during drillstem testing. Ain Dar No. 1 was put on production in early 1951 at an extraordinary oil rate of 15,600 barrels per day (bpd) and is still producing today more than 57 years later, with the original well casings and with the aid of best-in-class reservoir management practices. The well, amazingly, produced dry oil for 49 years, before producing its rst water in 1999. Over the years, this magnicent well has produced 152 million barrels of oil and is still producing 2,100 bpd in 2008.

However, because Haradh well was nearly 200 km south of Ain Dar production facilities and therefore impractical to produce at the time, Aramco had to wait 15 years to bring it on-stream. In 1964, Haradh No. 1 was nally put on production at an oil rate of 6,400 bpd. The well was shut in during the mid-1980s due to low demand but resumed production in 1990 at 6,700 bpd of dry oil, after acid stimulation. Haradh No. 1 has produced more than 24 million barrels of oil in its career, and continues to produce in 2008 at an oil rate of 2,300 bpd with a watercut of only 1 percent.
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In 1949 Aramco engineers wanted to drill a step-out well, Ain Dar No. 2, about 12 km to the south 2 of Ain Dar 1; instead, a second wildcat was drilled 185 km to the south at Haradh. At that time, no one openly suggested that the En Nala anticline would prove to be one continuous eld. This possibility became very real when the Haradh No. 1 wildcat struck oil in 1949.

Uthmaniyah No. 1 was important in establishing that the En Nala anticline was oil-lled between Ain Dar and Haradh. This wildcat well was drilled in 1951 and tested initially at 9,200 bpd. As with the other Ghawar wells, oil gravity was in the range of 33 degrees API (Arabian Light Crude). Uthmaniyah No. 1 was brought onstream in 1956 and produced at an oil rate of 11,300 bpd in its rst year. Located on the eastern ank of Uthmaniyah, this well was the rst of the discovery wells to employ a water shutoff to extend dry oil production. This discovery well has produced more than 20 million barrels of oil.

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The Shedgum No. 1 discovery well was drilled in 1952 to delineate the En Nala anticline to the east of Ain Dar. The well struck oil in the Arab-D carbonate and was later brought on-stream in 1954 at an outstanding oil production rate of 12,400 bpd, comparable to Ain Dar No. 1. In 1968 the wellbore rock matrix was acidized to improve the ow of oil from the carbonate formation. In 1989 liners were run across the open hole to proactively address future water encroachment. Recently, the oil production rate 4 was enhanced greatly for Shedgum No. 1 by recompleting the well with a horizontal sidetrack complemented by inow control device (ICD) technology. Not only was the oil rate increased from about 1,000 bpd to over 3,700 bpd, the watercut has also been lowered signicantly. Shedgum No. 1 has produced more than 98 million barrels of oil over the last 55 years, and the application of new technologies will keep the well producing for years to come.

The nal discovery well was Hawiyah No. 1, which conrmed that Ghawar held oil between Uthmaniyah and Haradh. Drilling was completed in 1953, and the well came on-stream in 1966 at 4,800 bpd of dry oil. The well received an acid stimulation treatment in 1977, with subsequent production of 7,600 bpd. Hawiyah No. 1 has produced 51 million barrels of oil, and continues to produce today at 4,600 bpd.

Since the discovery of the Ghawar eld in 1948, Saudi Aramco has implemented best-in-class eld management practices and leading technologies that have evolved over the years. As a result, Ghawars magnicent ve discovery 6
(1) 1948 Letter to His Excellency Finance Minister Abdullah Sulaiman reporting that wildcat well Ain Dar No. 1 successfully owed oil to the surface. (2 through 5) Original well completion drawings for Haradh No. 1, Uthmaniyah No. 1, Shedgum No. 1 and Hawiyah No. 1. (6) The original Hawiyah No. 1 well resistivity log showing large oil column.

wells have demonstrated extraordinary performance with extended lifecycles and outstanding oil recovery. One of the rst reservoir management initiatives was gas re-injection in Ain Dar. In 1958, King Saud Ibn Abd al-Aziz inaugurated the Gas Injection facilities in Ain Dar. The primary purpose of this program was to re-inject produced gas to sustain reservoir pressure. Gas injection commenced in 1959 and continued for 20 years. Water injection began in Ghawar in 1964 to provide additional pressure support (i.e. maintaining reservoir capacity to push oil to the surface). This technology, known as secondary recovery, provided a stepwise improvement in pressure support, and began the displacement of oil from the outer edges of the Ghawar eld toward the central regions to sustain oil production, as demonstrated by the phenomenal performance of the discovery wells. In 1995, a comprehensive 3-D seismic campaign was conducted across the Ghawar eld. The seismic proles provided vital information on reservoir structure and distribution of fractures, guiding development and re-completions across Ghawar. This information, for example, was used in guiding the placement of the horizontal well trajectory for Shedgum No. 1. The Ghawar discovery wells are still producing today with their original well casings. This highlights the outstanding quality of workmanship and materials. Combined, the ve Ghawar discovery wells have produced nearly 350 million barrels of oil. The discovery wells will continue producing oil, and at the appropriate time Saudi Aramco will apply the latest best-in-class technologies to further extend producing life and curtail water production.

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