Saudi Arabian Oil Co plans to increase its drilling-rig count by 12 percent next year to 145 to boost natural-gas and oil output from its Manifa field, a former executive of state-run company said.

Most of the expansion is for gas development, Sadad al-Husseini said last week by e-mail. Al-Husseini was executive vice president for exploration and development at the company known as Saudi Aramco. He founded and runs Husseini Energy, an independent energy consultant in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Aramco will drill for gas onshore in northern Saudi Arabia and near the Shaybah oil field in the Empty Quarter desert, as well as offshore in Hasbah field in the Arabian Gulf, said al-Husseini. The company will have 50 drilling rigs for oil, 50 for gas, 15 exploration rigs and 30 workover rigs to maintain existing wells next year, he said.

The oil drilling is mainly to “replace capacity declines that result from ongoing production” and “will not add new capacity, except for the Manifa drilling,” al-Husseini said.

Saudi Aramco increased the number of drilling rigs this year to 130, more than figures given out by rig contractors, according to al-Husseini. The nation currently pumps around 10 million barrels a day of crude, he said.

Baker Hughes chief executive officer Chad Deaton said in March that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, is increasing the number of its drilling rigs by the end of this year to 118 from 92. Nabors Industries Ltd., the world’s largest onshore drilling contractor, had 30 rigs in the kingdom at the end of the first quarter this year and said in March it held talks with Saudi Aramco to add more rigs.

Saudi Aramco is increasing the number of drilling rigs in its Manifa field to 20 next year from the current eight, al- Husseini said. The company will spend about $17 billion developing the giant field, located in shallow water in the Arabian Gulf, to bring the full field development 10 years ahead of its planned schedule, Saudi Aramco’s Chief Executive Officer Khalid Al-Falih said in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 6. The field will start production in 2013, he said.

Manifa, the world’s fifth-largest oil field, is expected to produce 500,000 barrels of Arabian Heavy crude oil in 2013 and 900,000 barrels a day by 2015, according to the company’s annual review. Aramco’s Manifa oil field development is aimed at maintaining the company’s production at 12 million barrels a day as it slows output from older fields, al-Falih told the al-Hayat daily newspaper on Dec. 13.

No one at Saudi Aramco’s headquarter in Dhahran could be reached for comment on the rig-count increase, as Thursday is the start of the weekend in the country.

Halliburton Co. won a contract from Saudi Aramco in 2008 to drill for oil in the offshore part of Manifa field. Halliburton said in April that Saudi Aramco was planning to increase the rig count by approximately 30 percent in 2012 from its levels at the beginning of the year, with 60 percent of this increase to be assigned to the Manifa project. The project was delayed due to the global recession, Halliburton said.

Source: ArabianBusiness & Bloomberg