Dolphin project to meet 30% of UAE's natural gas needs

Anatural gas project at Qatar's Ras Laffan gas field, which was inaugurated last week, is the Middle East's largest energy initiative yet and will supply gas to Qatar, the UAE and Oman. The 364km pipeline, which will deliver gas from the field to recipient countries, is also the largest Gulf co-operation project so far, said Ibrahim Ahmed Al Ansari, general manager of Dolphin Energy, UAE. It crosses the borders of the three countries and offers them energy security for at least a quarter of a century. In an exclusive interview with Emirates Business, Al Ansari said the cost of gas from the project was four times less than other energy sources, such as diesel.

Going forward, the Dolphin pipeline will meet 30 per cent of the UAE's natural gas needs, and gas will begin to be pumped to Oman starting from the third quarter of this year.

What are the most important features of the project?

The project opens new energy markets by meeting the growing needs of the UAE and Oman through secure and clean sources. It is a confirmed source of energy for up to 25 years and can be extended. Dolphin Energy is the biggest energy initiative in the Middle East so far as well as the first and largest Gulf co-operation on a strategic project. Abu Dhabi Government's Mubadala Development owns 51 per cent of Dolphin, while Total of France and Occidental Petroleum of the US own 24.5 per cent each.

The project covers 30 per cent of UAE's needs for natural gas. It is of great benefit for the UAE in general and Abu Dhabi in particular. And Dolphin gas is at least four times cheaper in today's prices than the other sources of energy.

The Ras Laffan field produces 22 billion cubic feet of gas a day, according to the Qatari Minister of Energy and Industry. Considering this huge output, do you intend to increase the number of Dolphin agents in the UAE and in other countries?

According to the current agreements with Qatar, the amount of gas sent to the UAE is two billion cubic feet a day. We do not mind increasing our number of customers if more gas is available. We hope the company will meet the needs of all emirates. The project makes it necessary to have constant and continued co-operation and co-ordination between the UAE and Qatar.

When will gas exports to Oman begin?

We are engaged in efforts to make Dolphin gas reach Oman as quickly as possible. Work on the pipeline is at full swing to meet all the technical requirements at the border point between the UAE and Oman, and the gas is expected to flow to Oman during the third quarter of the year. As agreed, Oman will receive 200 million cubic feet a day. And when the entire pipeline network is fully operational in the near future, we will receive some 3.2 billion cubic feet a day from the Qatari field, instead of the present two billion. Then we can meet all our customers' needs.

When will work on the Taweelah-Fujairah section of the pipeline start?

This 240km pipeline is the longest land pipeline in the UAE. Dolphin has been asked to design and build it, extending from Taweelah on the Abu Dhabi coast to Fujairah on the east coast. The pipeline, with a width of 48 inches, will be built to meet the needs of the Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority.

Mannesmann of Germany won the approximately $200 million contract to manufacture the 120,000 tonnes of pipes needed. The first shipment of the pipes will arrive this summer and the rest will be handed over in spring 2009. Work on the pipeline will start during the third quarter of this year, and nine contracting firms from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greece, China, India, Germany, Italy and Russia have been invited to bid. The contract will be awarded this summer.

How is gas extracted from the Gulf and exported to the UAE and Oman?

The project included three separate phases involving a great deal of complication: exploration, extraction and treatment; transfer and supply of gas; and distribution of gas to customers. The first phase involved the extraction of natural gas from the Gulf at a depth of 10,000 feet and 12,000 feet.

Also two terminals were set up, each including 12 gas wells with depths ranging from 3,000 feet to 4,000 feet. The Dolphin team has completed work on the wells, which are now productive.

Crude gas is transported in a pipeline extending 80km from the waters of the Gulf to the Ras Laffan coast where Dolphin's gas assembly and treatment plant was built. The plant forms the basic element of Dolphin's operations. It has four units to treat natural gas, each with a capacity of 500 million cubic feet a day.

A number of products with a high commercial value such as condensers, liquefied petroleum gas, ethane and sulfur are extracted at the plant. The derivatives are moved to various storage facilities before export. Dolphin Energy sells ethane gas to Qatar, while petroleum condensers, butane and propane are sold under immediate contracts in world markets. Last year Dolphin sold 14 shipments (500,000 barrels each) of petroleum condensers as well as two shipments of butane and propane. Liquid sulfur is turned into solid sulfur to be sold in world markets.

PROFILE: Ibrahim Ahmed Al Ansari, General Manager

Ibrahim Ahmed Al Ansari has been Dolphin Energy's General Manager for the UAE since October 2007, before which he was deputy CEO for operation affairs.

He is in charge of all projects executed inside the UAE, such as the gas pipeline from Qatar, gas reception stations in Taweelah, Dolphin distribution systems in the Eastern Region, and the Dolphin gas pipeline between Al Ain and Fujairah, which was officially opened in January 2004.

Before joining Dolphin he served as Director-General of Union Water and Electricity Company. He had an 18-year stint with Adnoc. Al Ansari holds a BSc in electrical engineering from the University of Louisiana, US.