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Site visit: Jubail Industrial City

by Michael Fahy on Dec 14, 2013

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The figures surrounding Jubail Industrial City are staggering. The city, which has sprung up from an area of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province that contained a fishing village less than 40 years ago, is now responsible for around 7% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP. Add in the economic output of its western coast twin city of Yanbu, and they are not only responsible for 12% of GDP, but also two-thirds of the Kingdom’s entire industrial production.

What’s more, Jubail is growing at a phenomenal rate. A new mega-refinery, Satorp, which is nearing completion, sits on a site of more than 4km2 and has cost an estimated $14bn to build. The project, which is a joint venture between Saudi Aramco (which has a 62.5% stake) and France’s Total (37.5%), is currently in experimental production phase, with the first refined products from the plant being shipped via huge lines directly to the nearby King Fahad Port in September.

The refinery, which is capable of processing 400,000 barrels of oil per day into petrol, diesel, jet fuel and a variety of other useful products, would be a major standalone asset in most countries.

In Jubail, however, it is merely one of four phases of Jubail Industrial City II – a massive site that only began to be built in 2006. And it isn’t even the largest part. It is being followed by a new downstream chemicals complex containing 26 different manufacturing units that is costing $19.3bn to develop.

These, and the thousands of villas, shops, leisure facilities and other amenities required for the staff who will work within them are overseen by the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu (RCJY) – an organisation specifically set up by the Saudi Government in 1975 as an autonomous organisation to develop and run the cities. The Commission takes responsibility for the entire operations of the city – from its fire stations and police forces through to schools and hospitals.

From the outset, the commission employed Bechtel to help create a masterplan for the delivery of Jubail. Approximately three years was spent developing this masterplan, which was used as the basis for a work plan to prioritise which projects need to be brought forwards in order to develop the city.

Bechtel, which is a project management consultant to the Commission, is currently working through the 39th version of Jubail's work plan and is putting finishing touches to the 40th.

Gordon Anderson, manager of projects for Saudi Arabian Bechtel, argues that the initial masterplan “has stood the test of time”. Jubail has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest construction engineering project in the world, and is continuing to grow.

“Having been a Bechtel employee for a long time you hear a lot about Jubail and when you come here you see it literally is a city rising out of the desert,” he says.

“You’ll see parts that have been here for 30 years, parts under construction and sand that will start growing in the future.”

Work began on the first phase of the city in 1977. It is spread over 40.86 km2 and has around 19 primary industries using gas and oil feedstocks to produce a range of products such as refined oil, petrochemicals, steel, glass and aluminium, as well as an area with secondary and light industry units that take these materials and create useful products with them.