Home / ANALYSIS / Special Report: Sulphur in the Middle East: Past, present and future

Special Report: Sulphur in the Middle East: Past, present and future

by Guest on Feb 14, 2018

Angie Slavens, managing director, UniverSUL Consulting.
Angie Slavens, managing director, UniverSUL Consulting.

The Middle East's sour gas/sulphur network has been growing and strengthening in recent years, and it will be exciting to see how local producers lead the way for the global sulphur industry of the future, remarks Angie Slavens, managing director, UniverSUL Consulting.

With the recent start-ups of several mega-scale sour gas plants in the Middle East, the region has become the world’s largest sulphur producer, taking over from North America which has held the largest-producer position for the past several decades.

With several other large sour gas development projects underway, such as the Hail & Ghasha Project in the UAE, and the Tanajib Project in Saudi Arabia, these two nations are on the track of becoming the world’s top two producers, with the potential to deliver more than 30% of the world’s sulphur supply.

Sulphur’s geographic shift

While the Middle East has only recently earned the title of world’s largest sulphur producing region, the production of large volumes of sulphur is nothing new for oil and gas producers in this part of the world. Chart 1 shows elemental sulphur production over the past six decades and illustrates that the amount of sulphur recovered from oil and gas began showing a significant rise in the 1970s, when Canada was the largest producer.

However, around the same time, similarly-sized, large-scale sulphur plants were starting up in the Middle East. Many of these facilities faced region-specific challenges, such as BTX (benzene, toluene, xylene) destruction, and high ambient temperatures, which required the development of unique, region-specific know-how and expertise.

A sulphur-focused technical community began emerging in North America in the 1970s, during the development of highly sour fields  in Canada.

This network was formalised through various conferences and industry organisations. Many Middle Eastern companies participated in this technical community for sharing of lessons learned and knowledge dissemination, but were not always at the centre of discussions due to geographical distance.

But now, given the increasing sulphur production in the Middle East and decreasing production in North America, the sulphur industry is currently undergoing a geographical shift, and a number of more formalised sulphur-focused communities of practice are taking shape in the Middle East.

This new Middle Eastern sulphur network consists of local producers and subject matter experts, along with highly experienced professionals from North America, Europe and around the world. Many of the Middle East’s region-specific challenges and opportunities are becoming primary focus areas for the industry as a whole. Some of the Middle East’s key sulphur-related challenges, and devised methods for dealing with them, are discussed below.


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