Opinion

Saudi Aramco between 1977 and 2020

December 02, 2020
Aqeel Bukhamsin



According to a report, Larry Tanner, the former vice president of plants and pipelines at Saudi Aramco, was onboard a plane with a group of journalists in mid-May 1977 to visit some of the company’s sites.

While looking down from the plane Tanner spotted a column of smoke billowing from Abqaiq, he started panicking. He then received a call via the wireless device asking him to return to Abqaiq immediately. This was following the outbreak of a fire that engulfed all divisions of the largest petroleum processing plant in the world.

The plant was processing 10 million barrels per day at that time. Due to a crack in an underground pipeline, a huge fire broke out and spreading all over the gas-oil separation plant, causing the death of the Saudi work supervisor Muhammad Al-Saneen and injuring 13 workers.

The losses were estimated at $100 million at that time. The fire brought the facility to a complete standstill. However, it regained almost half of its production capacity within a week and the facility was fully operational within 34 days.


The fire during the year 1977 proved to be a pivotal turning point in Saudi Aramco’s safety procedures and prompted the company to make major changes in the construction work pattern of operational sites for averting accidents with greater efficiency.

Former Vice President of Aramco for gas works Daifallah Al-Otaibi, who was in charge of maintenance at Abqaiq plant at the time of the outbreak of fire recalled: “It took time and money, but it brought about the transformation of the facilities, making them the first-class facilities with appropriate safety measures.”

After 43 years, another fire broke out a few days ago in a plant for sorting petroleum products in Jeddah, following a terrorist attack by militias from across the border. The incident was dealt with quite differently. It did not take more than 40 minutes to put out the fire, and there were no injuries reported among the workers. Aramco resumed the normal operation of the plant within three hours.

This does not mean that the targeting was not dangerous, but rather indicates that Aramco’s ability to absorb the shock quickly. Perhaps if the accident occurred elsewhere, it would have caused a disaster. But this proved that when the incidents of the past are a focal point for serious learning and development, the results are impressive.

In the Jeddah fire, which was a limited one, we have to value highly the efforts of the brave Saudi officials who managed to contain the crisis with all the ability, and it was greater than the incident.

— The writer can be reached on Twitter: @Aqbukhamsin


December 02, 2020
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