For years, Saudi Aramco and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals have worked together to protect the highly sensitive ecosystem in Manifa. A recent update session at the university shows that not only has the project maintained the integrity of the sensitive marine environment, it has actually enhanced it.
Senior management from Saudi Aramco recently gathered at the Center for Environment and Water at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) to get a current update of environmental achievements and long-term conservation projects on the company’s flagship program for environmental stewardship.
Operational since 2013, the massive offshore Manifa field has a capacity to produce 900,000 barrels per day of Arabian Heavy crude oil, which allows the Kingdom to maintain its leading position as a global energy supplier. But what makes the Manifa project so important is the careful collaboration between Saudi Aramco engineers, Saudi Aramco Environmental Protection officials, and scientists to preserve the fragile ecosystem in Manifa Bay, which is famous as one of the top fish and shrimp nurseries on the Gulf Coast.
The result of that collaborative effort was an innovative plan to reach Manifa field — primarily located in shallow water — through building a world-class causeway, bridges, and laterals to connect the man-made islands. The computerized modeling of the 27 drilling islands, connected by a 42 kilometer causeway and 14 bridges to allow natural water circulation at Manifa Bay, has significantly contributed to enhance the natural flow of water, maintaining the bay as a perfect environment for shrimp and fish populations to grow.
During the design, construction, and dredging activities on the man-made islands, the Manifa mega-project as a whole followed strict environmental policies and standards in all aspects related to marine measures. This included the specific placement and configuration of causeway islands to avoid affecting the existing coral reefs, while meeting the requirements of drilling and oil production.
Celebrating a success story
At the KFUPM event hosted by Alaadin A. Bukhari of KFUPM’s Center for Environment and Water, the Manifa program’s achievements were celebrated with a number of presentations by Saudi Aramco and KFUPM experts. Scientists from the Marine Studies Section at KFUPM’s Center for Environment and Water also presented MPD officials with its final report on the environmental impact of the project so far.
“Today, we celebrate and thank all of you who contributed to the landmark of the Manifa causeway,” said Mohammed H. Al-Ghamdi, manager of the Manifa Producing Department (MPD). “Today, we can see the results. Since the construction of the causeway, marine life in Manifa has improved. Saudi Aramco’s determination to protect the environment is not lip service; it is translated into action to affirm our determination toward the Manifa marine environment.
“This 10 years of partnership with the Saudi Aramco Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals was established initially to protect the ecosystem through developing a creative causeway design and conducting a survey of the marine environment at Manifa Bay before and after the causeway construction,” Al-Ghamdi added. “However, we did not stop there. Instead, we capitalized on this partnership to improve and increase the density of marine life.”
The results of this careful collaboration is already paying off. In multiple reports, KFUPM scientists showed how the causeway design had not only maintained but also enhanced the natural circulation of tidal waters into and out of Manifa Bay.
Dissolved oxygen rates are higher than they were before construction, making those shallow waters a healthier environment for fish and shrimp larvae. Coral reefs have grown in size and seem to be spreading onto the rocks of the Manifa causeway itself. Seagrass meadows also have increased, covering 70% more area than before construction.
Far from destroying the fragile ecosystem in Manifa Bay, the Manifa causeway is showing signs of improving the habitat for the larval and juvenile shrimp and fish populations that call Manifa their home.
A commitment to the environment
For every presentation on environmental challenges, the 10-year trends in biodiversity at Manifa Bay, and Manifa’s long history and future potential as a nursery ground for shrimp and fish, there was an open exchange of views in question and answer sessions. What was clear to all was that Saudi Aramco’s commitment to preserving the marine environment at Manifa and other facilities was heartfelt and was a central corporate value, woven into every aspect of the way we do business.
While KFUPM scientists gave presentations and presented posters, showing specific data on Manifa Bay’s recovery, post-construction, Aramcon experts laid out the broader framework of the company’s environmental stewardship, including future mitigation efforts.
Khaled A. Abdulkader, a senior consultant in EPD, gave a presentation about the three layers of monitoring for compliance with strict environmental regulations, and the host of mitigation efforts made by the company — including the construction of a new fishing port at the coastal town of Dareen.
Abdulkader says Saudi Aramco made many modifications to the Manifa project’s design, including removing the northwestern portion of the causeway and building bridges in other parts of the causeway to increase tidal circulation; introducing the zero discharge of drilling wastes, through cutting reinjection and “skip and ship” to safer onshore locations; and the plantation of mangrove forests, construction of shrimp nurseries, and construction of artificial reefs to encourage marine life to quickly rebound after construction was complete.
The redesign of the causeway to encourage circulation was especially successful, Abdulkader said. Initial plans for a causeway would have slowed the “flush rate” of Manifa Bay to 71 days from the 17 day natural rate before construction. By opening up the bay with the causeway and bridge design, the flush rate was enhanced to 15 days. Today, monitoring data shows the actual flush rate is 11 days, much faster than the computer models had projected.
“Manifa is a highly productive marine ecosystem, and that makes the project very challenging,” Abdulkader said. “It is good to get a chance to document all that was done to maintain a project as important as this is to the Kingdom’s economy, and at the same time protect the ecosystem at Manifa.”