Interview: Abdallah Al Subaiyyal

How are refineries working to improve efficiency?

ABDALLAH AL SUBAIYYAL: Major factors for improving efficiency and operational safety are to maximise operating unit utilisation and minimise losses. Equipment reliability is a critical, ongoing priority for our refinery. Mechanical underperformance can lead to decreased efficiencies, while system failures can result in unplanned downtime and safety risks, which lead to production loss and can be financially devastating in today’s competitive market. For these reasons, ensuring the safe operation and maximum reliability of machinery is a top priority.

To what extent has the shift in oil markets affected the number of refineries coming on-line globally?

AL SUBAIYYAL: In the last few years, demand has been hampered due to the slowdown of the global economy. Although we have seen a dramatic fall in crude oil prices, refineries have generally not been reporting a sharp decrease in earnings due to health margins, and in some regions margins have actually improved. More demand will lead to more investment. For now the refinery segment is still healthy.

How does Vision 2030’s push for diversification and Saudiisation influence oil refineries?

AL SUBAIYYAL: During the planning stage of YASREF, the goal was to develop Saudi experts and to support the Kingdom and region’s economy through local engineering expertise, and to promote Saudiisation within the sector by hiring and training Saudi employees. During project construction, YASREF developed a highly skilled local workforce with a clear safety record and encouraged that much of the key equipment and units be constructed in the Kingdom. Within a few years of operation YASREF has delivered significant annual revenues and generated about 6000 direct and indirect jobs for the community. The joint venture has enrolled approximately 700 Saudi employees in the apprentice programme, which has readied them to assume full-time jobs in operations, maintenance, industrial relations and engineering activities.

Most refineries built around the world rely only on their own technology. Given this is a project that brings together two of the largest companies in the world – Saudi Aramco and Sinopec – the project was able to use the best available technology in designing a project that highlights global engineering at its best. The refinery is using proprietary technologies supplied by UOP, Chevron Lummus and ConocoPhillips to ensure the quality and quantity of the products. Vision 2030’s push for diversification will drive other companies to follow this example of working with international technology partners to develop new solutions that deliver more to the local community.

Many by-products of refining are exported; do you see potential for using them within the Kingdom?

AL SUBAIYYAL: The potential is very high, as the infrastructure for industrial growth is improving very smoothly, making it a highly attractive market for investment. We are confident that in the short and medium term we will see more local and international interest in buying YASREF by-products. Farabi Petrochemicals Company is offering to buy all of our benzene production and discussions with a German company are ongoing to invest in our coke production too.

What strategies can be pursued to attract qualified domestic employees to work in the industry?

AL SUBAIYYAL: Realising a business’s full potential relies on having the right people in the right positions. In order to achieve this, one must ensure that they have a healthy work environment with varied tasks, flexible schedules and a culture that keeps employees content. Encouraging employee loyalty not only lowers the costs associated with a higher turnover, such as expenditures on recruitment and training, but it also drives employees to work harder and feel more productive.