After breakfast, the group of Saudi Aramco Retirees continued their sentimental journey by taking the company’s inter-area bus to Ras Tanura for a tour of the Refinery, Terminal and the residential compound, Najmah.
Long time Aramcon, Clive Oliver led an informative tour of the refinery and then was continued by Saeed Al-Talaq with a tour of the Terminal.
The most complex of Saudi Aramco’s refineries, Ras Tanura Refinery is capable of producing 325,000 barrels per day (BPD) nominal capacity. It contains a vacuum column rated at 135,000 BPD, a 44,000 BPD hydrocracker and a total of 94,000 BPD capacity of catalytic reforming. It is the only Saudi Aramco refinery that contains a Visbreaker. The refinery also produces 13,000 BPD of asphalt, more than any other refinery in the Kingdom. Crude is normally transferred to Ras Tanura through a pipeline and can also be supplied by ship. Most of Ras Tanura’s production is transferred to the Dhahran bulk plant, although it can be exported.
Two members of the tour grew up in Ras Tanura, Bill Tracy and Greg Dowling. Bill Tracy spoke of the time he first came to Arabia in 1946. At that time Najmah was called "American City" and consisted of just 30 houses, most of which were still in the stage of being built. He recalled that his father told him he would go down to the camp construction crew and encourage them to hurry up and finish the first houses so that he could move his family to Saudi Arabia from the United States. When the family eventually arrived, as no grass grew anywhere and because his mother was a keen gardener, the family would bring sprigs of grass from Dhahran to plant in their yard a little at a time to have some patches of green. Just as their first yard was beginning to look good, they were offered another house, No. 1A (on the beach next to the Surf House), so they moved there, and, as there was no grass, the process began again. They got the new yard looking good and then his little sister was born. Now they needed a 3-bedroom house so they moved across the street and, yes, started the process over again. When he went to boarding school in Beirut, Bill would never came home without bringing plants for his mother to plant in the yard. He also remembered how he used to ride horses along the beach down by the refinery, and all the fun of sailing, water skiing and skin diving at the yacht club, which is now used by the coast guard.
While visiting the Terminal, Greg Dowling recalled how he had lived in Ras Tanura from 1954 to 1976 and was in Kindergarten here through 9th grade. Greg and his father spent many happy Thursdays fishing off South Pier. He admitted they never caught much to eat but had great fun. He remembered that the Yacht Club was the prime recreational spot in those days. When he was a returning student of 17 to 18 years old, he worked during the summer holidays offshore for the Kanoo company. One summer he worked on a crew boat that helped provision the tankers, and once when they were bringing an Italian tanker some spare parts, the captain asked them to stay for dinner. This turned out to be a 7-course meal with a different wine at each meal, so by the time the meal was over they had a hard time transferring back onto the crew boat. Another fond memory for Greg was when he worked on a hydrographic survey boat for an old ex-Navy captain and Frank Richards, the company’s Chief Surveyor; the often fished offshore from the boat.
The residential compound of at Ras Tanura is in a beautiful location along the Arabian Gulf coast. The group visited the Surf House with its dining facilities, library and recreation areas, and then went on to visit the school and sports facilities including the baseball field.
Mr. Joseph Mahon lived in Ras Tanura from 1952 until 1956 before being transferring to Dhahran, Abqaiq and back to Dhahran.
A very pleasant luncheon was held for the party at the Pilot House hosted by the Younis A. Al-Aiderous, the Vice President of Northern Area Oil Operations.
After lunch the group took a Saudi Aramco 737 flight from Ras Tanura to the Shaybah oilfield, which is set in the Rub Al-Khali, known as the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and the biggest sand desert in the world.
The largest oil development of the past twenty years, the Shaybah oilfield is capable of pumping half a million barrels of oil a day and came on stream two years ago. There are some fascinating facts about Shaybah. It is located 250 miles from the nearest township. Thirty million cubic meters of sand were moved during its construction. An airport capable of taking big jets, 500 miles of pipes, a new road across drifting sand dunes, and residential quarters for 750 workers, were all built in a little over 18 months.
The group watched an informative film showing the development of the oilfield and its daily operations. They were then driven up a very tall sand dune to a reception area which has been created in the form of an Arabian tent overlooking the Shaybah facility. Some of the party climbed further up the dune behind the tent as the weather conditions were perfect to appreciate the spectacular sunset. From this higher viewpoint it was possible to appreciate the peace and serenity of the spectacular red desert and the magnificent views from the top of the dune were simply stunning.
Back down the dune the group were guests at a superb barbeque dinner provided by the Manager of Shaybah.
The tour group flew back to Dammam Airport via Al-Hasa, arriving back in Dhahran at 10:30 p.m.