Protecting a Vital Resource

Oct. 16, 2020
Water conservation efforts at Saudi Aramco

Water conservation is a subject that few outside the energy industry naturally associate with oil and gas production. Instead, the debate around energy sustainability usually focuses on CO2 emissions.

However, both those elements are very much interconnected. For example, rising global temperatures are one of the key threats to water security — particularly in hot countries where supplies of this precious resource are already limited.1 In fact, the World Bank singles out water scarcity as one of the greatest risks to economic progress, poverty eradication and sustainable development globally, highlighting that nine out of 10 natural disasters are water-related.2

Put simply, our planet requires the same commitment to water conservation as that applied to combating climate change. Industries must adopt measures to reduce the amount of water they use for their operations.

With its roots in Saudi Arabia’s desert climate, Aramco has long recognized the importance of preserving water. From an early stage, water management has been a key pillar in the company’s long-term strategy, alongside responsible management of oil resources and deployment of new technologies. As a result, its average water oil ratio (WOR) is 0.4, well below the global average. We adopt an integrated approach in our operations to ensure that Aramco not only produces oil with low CO2 emissions but also preserves water, especially groundwater — the water that is used in an array of essential activities such as for agriculture and potable water for general use.

One of the ways in which we avoid the waste of this precious resource is by using seawater as Aramco’s primary source of water for pressure support and “sweep” of oil reservoirs. We have a specialized plant, Qurayyah Sea Water Plant, which can process 14 million barrels of seawater a day for reservoir injection.

In locations where seawater is not as readily available, additional treatment is being considered. At Khurais, for example, Aramco is constructing a 60,000-barrel-per-day seawater reverse osmosis facility and ending the use of non-potable groundwater in plant processes. One of the latest innovative approaches is the use of seawater for operations at Aramco’s Jafurah unconventional gas field, one of the largest non-associated gas fields in Saudi Arabia. A dedicated seawater treatment facility will be built to supply all water needed for drilling operations, avoiding the need to deplete fresh groundwater supplies.

Aramco has also pushed the envelope for developing reservoir modeling technology in-house. Its cornerstone reservoir simulator POWERS, first deployed in 2000, has evolved from mega-cell to giga-cell (GigaPOWERS) and now to the industry’s first trillion-cell simulator TeraPOWERS. This helps craft the most optimized field development plans, reducing water production in the process.

It is through approaches such as these that Aramco can produce oil and gas with low CO2 emissions per barrel. A 2018 external audit found the company’s upstream carbon intensity was 10.2 kilograms per barrel of oil, well below the industry average of 18 kilograms. A separate ranking published in Science Magazine the same year found Saudi Arabia had the second lowest carbon intensity among 50 countries analyzed.

More generally, the energy industry must continually seek new ways to improve its water performance as part of a wider commitment to climate change. This includes initiatives such as investment in well workover and re-entry drilling, a water-saving process in which Aramco invested just over $1 billion last year. Utilizing smart completions, such as Inflow Control Devices (ICDs) and Inflow Control Valves, to manage and reduce water production is also essential. This technology results in reduced power consumption, lower CO2 emissions and less waste — prompting Aramco to invest $860 million in ICDs in 2019.

Another example is state-of-the-art Logging-While-Drilling technologies and workflows, which allow precise geo-steering of horizontal laterals in thin oil zones away from water bearing intervals. Meanwhile, embracing multi-lateral and maximum reservoir contact wells has benefits extending beyond well productivity, as they also reduce carbon footprint by lowering the number of wells required for field development.

There are also economic benefits for energy companies that successfully reduce their water footprint. For example, Aramco spent $7.5 per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) on its upstream operations in 2018, compared to an average of $26.9/BOE for the five other main international oil companies. The cost difference stems from a combination of factors including technology, reservoir quality, geographical conditions and low fluid handling requirements.

For Aramco, the aim is to continuously pursue water conservation initiatives toward a goal of preserving Saudi Arabia’s groundwater for future generations. This ambition can only be achieved through embracing innovation and technology, cementing Aramco’s position as a leader in hydrocarbon extraction in terms of not
only volume and sustainability but also in fostering advanced development and production strategies. These drivers make Aramco a reliable oil supplier with the lowest cost per barrel, one of the lowest carbon intensities in the world and a proud track record of water conservation in the energy industry. WT

About the Author: Waleed Al-Mulhim is Saudi Aramco's chief petroleum engineer within Petroleum Engineering & Development. In this position, he oversees reservoir management, reservoir simulation and description, reserves and reservoir planning, in addition to production and facility development.


1. "UN World Water Development Report 2020," UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, 2020.

2. "Water," The World Bank website, Last accessed Sept. 21, 2020.

About the Author

Waleed Al-Mulhim | Chief petroleum engineer within Petroleum Engineering & Development.

Waleed Al-Mulhim is Saudi Aramco's chief petroleum engineer within Petroleum Engineering & Development. In this position, he oversees reservoir management, reservoir simulation and description, reserves and reservoir planning, in addition to production and facility development.

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