Spring 2012
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Yemen LNG: empowering Yemen
"A golden opportunity", developing local talent

“The plant has been constructed in Yemen by Yemenis,” states Yemen LNG’s General Manager Rafin. “Five thousand people are employed directly and indirectly and the company is involved in the local community, everywhere from schools to construction to scholarships.” HR manager Abdulla Al Wadee says, “We thought we could never start with such a high level of Yemenisation at such a complex plant, but 85 per cent of the staff are now Yemenis, the only LNG project in the world to achieve such levels so quickly. The target is to raise this to more than 90 per cent and bring more Yemenis into senior positions.

”Some graduates of the plant will go to international assignments with Total outside Yemen, including new LNG plants such as its US$34 billion Ichthys project in Australia, in which Total has a 24 per cent stake. This possibility interests Saleh Al Ashtal, the enthusiastic young plant methods engineer. Educated at the University of Texas, he started out with Total’s E&P business in Yemen and spent two and a half years in Paris. He observes how ensuring maximum plant reliability “is not just technical”. In this remote location, served by logistics hubs in Dubai and Djibouti, he liaises with logistics colleagues to agree which supplies "are really critical to smooth operations”.

One quarter of the Yemen LNG employees are women at the Sana’a office, which features a nursery and a women’s gym. Projects engineer Rakia Najmi has worked in France, Syria and now Balhaf since joining Total four years ago. She says the 29 nationalities at the plant “work and live like a family. We have one goal and have to reach it all together. I would like to encourage women to get this experience. It has made me totally different.”

Saleh Al Ashtal, Plant Methods Engineer, Yemen LNG
Saleh Al Ashtal, Plant Methods Engineer, Yemen LNG
Rakia Najmi, Project Engineer, Yemen LNG
Rakia Najmi, Project Engineer,Yemen LNG

To continue raising the skills of the workforce, the LNG School of Technology on the plant site runs a range of courses, building up to a Master’s-equivalent graduate diploma in LNG. The school was established in partnership with the prestigious Institut Français du Pétrole Energies Nouvelles, and is led by Hervé Chauvin. With 150 trainees in 2011, the various Yemen LNG training programmes are designed to serve not just the needs of the company, but those of ministries and other oil companies in Yemen, and eventually the whole Middle East.

“Five thousand people are employed directly and indirectly and the company is involved in the local community, everywhere from schools to construction to scholarships.”

Iman Senhoub, Yemen LNG’s articulate contracts lawyer, explains that “energy education was never more relevant than today”. The company provided a scholarship for her to study at Dundee University in the UK. Today, working with experienced expatriate colleagues gives her a “golden opportunity” to learn, and demands her “to be creative and think a lot.”

Local contractors have been key in constructing and operating the plant, and providing security and catering, and Yemen LNG has worked with them to help develop their skills.

Abdulaziz Mohsen Da’er, General Manager of Dome Trading & Contracting (an important supplier of Yemen LNG)

Abdul Aziz Da’er, General Manager of Dome Petroleum, explains how his firm “started very small” in 1999 but that it was “amazing how the opportunity and hard work” had allowed it to grow. Starting with Total on the Masila oil-fields since 2000, Dome provided electrical works and instrumentation to Yemen LNG. It created jobs for 350 Yemenis at the height of the project, and is now recruiting 50 young people from the Balhaf area for training.

On the back of success at Yemen LNG, Dome has won further contracts in Yemen, Algeria and Abu Dhabi. Its local base allowed it to respond to an emergency request from Total E&P within ten days, when a US company would have required eight weeks. Now Dome is working on solar-powered lighting, and wind-farms to be built on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. “No-one will build Yemen for us,” Abdul Aziz Da’er says emphatically. 

"The reputation of Total now in the LNG industry equals its reputation in deep offshore. We capitalise on the nine plants currently in operation worldwide where we have interests", says Rafin

Serving customers

This intense concentration on community relations paid dividends in helping the project continue operations during Yemen’s tumultuous 2011. This justified the faith placed it in by its Korean customers – who, lacking domestic gas resources, are critically dependent on reliable suppliers. Francois Rafin observes that Yemen LNG cooperates so closely with the EU, US and Yemeni militaries that “when you look at the maps of piracy, in front of Balhaf is the safest place in the world.”

Train 1 of the Yemen LNG plant at night

Total is also investigating opportunities to use more gas to supply badly-needed electricity to Yemeni consumers. A new power plant is planned for Hadhramaut, and there are plans for the new government to approve a pipeline to Sana’a.

“The presence of two buyers who are shareholders gives strength when the situation is not as expected – and over twenty years they are never as expected,” says Rafin, explaining how Yemen LNG shifted its sales from the US when gas prices fell so that now 75 per cent of output is sold to premium Asian markets. “We increase the price and we share the value” between the buyer, Yemen LNG and the Yemen government. The latest deal to divert LNG cargoes, just signed in Paris last February, will also procure some 150,000 tons of petrol for Yemen.

And during the 2011 political troubles, Total arranged for emergency deliveries of 50,000 tonnes of cooking gas to help the needy ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Under construction:Yemen LNG takes shape in Balhaf

Lessons of Yemen LNG

Francois Rafin points out the project’s strategic importance. “Total has really established its LNG reputation, which makes it a natural leader for a project such as Shtokman,” referring to Russia’s giant LNG project. “The reputation of Total now in the LNG industry equals its reputation in deep offshore. We capitalise on the nine plants currently in operation worldwide where we have interests – Qatar, Indonesia, Nigeria, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Norway... Total now has the second largest marketing portfolio in the world in LNG, thanks to Yemen and Qatar.”

The rapid development of a mostly-local workforce is encouraging for other MENA countries struggling with employment. Yemen LNG is an important generator of revenues for the state budget – but it is more than that; it brings economic development in the surrounding area, as well as catalysing the growth of local companies and the education of skilled people.

Yemen LNG is, in many ways, a template for future petroleum developments in the Middle East and globally. It shows the challenges of delivering worldscale projects in remote and challenging locations. Total’s global experience has allowed it to draw on lessons from around the world. The close cooperation between international oil companies, national oil companies, government, customers and communities is essential in an ever-more complex, connected and demanding world.


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