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Oman Awards Deal for Mideast’s First Solar Oil-Recovery Site

Petroleum Development Oman, a third owned by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, awarded a contract to GlassPoint Solar Inc. to build the Middle East’s first solar plant generating steam to boost output from aging oil deposits.

The 7-megawatt, four-acre site will deploy enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, technology, injecting steam into oilfields to loosen denser crude, according to an e-mailed statement today from Fremont, California-based GlassPoint. Previous such operations have burned natural gas to produce the steam.

Persian Gulf nations, suppliers of about a quarter of the world’s oil, are introducing EOR technology to make the most of depleting reserves. Oman, the biggest Arab oil producer that isn’t a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has reversed output declines as the country leads the region in its use of the system.

“Over time, the light oil at the top of fields gets used up, so ultimately everyone will be producing heavier and heavier oil,” GlassPoint Chief Executive Officer Rod Macgregor said today in a telephone interview. “Oil producers will need steam from somewhere, so they can either burn gas, which many lack, or they can use solar energy.”

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait

Saudi Arabia, the biggest crude exporter, will probably use EOR technology for more than 1 million barrels a day of its output by 2030, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s World Energy Outlook. Chevron Corp. uses steam to produce oil from part of the Wafra field that Kuwait shares with Saudi Arabia. Kuwait, OPEC’s fourth-largest member, plans to produce 60,000 barrels a day of heavy oil by 2016.

While GlassPoint’s plant will reduce Oman’s use of gas by only 1.6 million cubic meters a year, barely denting the 5.4 billion cubic meters it employs for EOR, “there’s no reason you couldn’t displace 80 percent of it,” Macgregor said.

Oman is reducing exports of liquefied natural gas and has delayed building petrochemicals plants as it feeds the needs of its own oil production and power plants. The country plans to produce 850,000 barrels of oil a day this year, rising to 1 million barrels a day in the next five years, Oil Minister Mohammed al-Rumhy said in November.

Carbon Dioxide Injection

Saudi Arabia, with the world’s largest crude reserves according to BP Plc, also needs to use gas to fire its power plants as energy demand soars, and is seeking alternative ways to boost oil extraction. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are considering employing carbon dioxide for EOR.

Saudi Aramco plans to start injecting CO2 into its Ghawar oilfield, the world’s largest, by 2013, it said in February. The U.A.E.’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. successfully piloted a project using 60 metric tons of CO2 a day at the Rumaitha field and is studying an expansion, according to CO2 EOR Strategy Advisor Ghaniya Bin-Dhaaer al-Yafei.

“The main EOR worldwide is steam with heavy oil, so demand for this solar technology depends on the heavy-oil reserves of big oil producers,” said Nansen Saleri, CEO of Quantum Reservoir Impact LLC, a Houston-based adviser to oil companies. “Saudi Arabia or Kuwait’s heavy oil is a very small part of their production, while steam injection is all over Venezuela because about 70 percent of its oil is heavy.”

The Sultanate of Oman is Petroleum Development Oman’s largest shareholder with a 60 percent stake, while Royal Dutch Shell owns 34 percent, Total SA holds 4 percent and Partex Oil & Gas has 2 percent.

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