A member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since 1967, the UAE is one of the most significant oil producers in the world. According to Oil & Gas Journal 2012 estimates, the UAE holds the seventh-largest proved reserves of oil at 97.8 billion barrels, with the majority of reserves located in Abu Dhabi (approximately 94 percent). The other six emirates combined account for just 6 percent of the UAE's crude oil reserves, led by Dubai with approximately 4 billion barrels. Production of these resources is dominated by the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) in partnership with a few large international oil companies under long-term concessions
The likelihood of further major discoveries in the UAE is low, but enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques are being successfully utilized to increase the extraction rates of the UAE's mature oil fields, and the recovery of oil prices following the global financial crisis will help maintain the commercial viability of such endeavors. Leaders in the UAE hope to increase crude oil production to 3.5 million bbl/d over the next few years, and levels are expected to approach 3 million bbl/d by the end of 2012.
In Abu Dhabi, contract structures are based on long-term, production-sharing agreements between the state-run ADNOC and private actors (primarily large international oil companies), with the state required to hold a majority share in all projects. With the exceptions of Dubai and Sharjah—which both have service contracts to manage their declining reserves—the smaller Emirates all utilize some form of production-sharing agreements similar to those found in Abu Dhabi. Major international oil companies involved in the oil and gas sector in the UAE include British Petroleum, Shell, Total, ExxonMobil, and Occidental Petroleum—which in 2008 secured the first new concession offered by the UAE in more than 20 years.
Nevertheless, recent exploration has not yielded any significant discoveries of crude oil. What it lacks in new discoveries, however, it makes up for with an emphasis on EOR techniques designed to extend the lifespan of the Emirates' existing oil fields. By improving the recovery rates at those fields, such techniques helped the UAE to nearly double the proved reserves in Abu Dhabi over the last decade-plus
The Zakum system—the third-largest oil system in the Middle East and the fourth-largest in the world—is the center of the UAE's oil industry, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the country's total production in 2010. The Upper Zakum field is run by the ZADCO—which is owned by ADNOC (72 percent share) and ExxonMobil (28 percent)—and currently produces 520,000 bbl/d. In July 2012 ZADCO awarded an $800-million engineering, procurement, and construction contract to Abu Dhabi's National Petroleum Construction Company—along with French firm Technip—with the goal of expanding production to 750,000 bbl/d by 2016. The Lower Zakum field—operated by the Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (ADMA-OPCO)—is also being expanded, with production expected to reach 425,000 bbl/d; up from the 300,000 bbl/d it currently produces.
Other significant fields include the Bu Hasa (600,000 bbl/d), Ghasha-Butini (up to 300,000 bbl/d by year-end 2012), Murban Bab (320,000 bbl/d), and the Sahil, Asab, and Shah (SAS) fields (385,000 bbl/d), all located in Abu Dhabi. Dubai and Sharjah also have producing basins, but nothing approaching the scale of those found in Abu Dhabi. The largest fields in those Emirates are the Fateh-Southwest Fateh-Falah fields (80,000 bbl/d) operated by the Dubai Petroleum Establishment and the Mubarak field (8,000 bbl/d) operated by Crescent Petroleum in Sharjah.
With limited prospects for major discoveries, production increases in the UAE will come almost exclusively from EOR techniques in Abu Dhabi's existing oil fields. Nevertheless, the government is pursuing production capacity of 3.5 million bbl/d in 2018 through the investment of $60 billion in Abu Dhabi's oil sector. ADCO—which oversees onshore operations in the emirate—plans to increase production in the Bu Hasa, Bab, and SAS fields over the coming years, with increases expected to approach 200,000 bbl/d as soon as 2014. Some newer fields will also contribute to production gains: Qusahwira is targeted to provide an additional 30,000 bbl/d by the end of 2012 and another 20,000 bbl/d by 2016 (to 90,000 bbl/d), while the Bida al-Qemzan field could add 75,000 bbl/d by 2016 bringing it to 300,000 bbl/d overall.
Smaller offshore fields like the Nasr, Umm Lulu, and Umm Shaif are also the target of increased investment, with ADMA-OPCO seeking to maintain production levels at the Umm Shaif field at 280,000 bbl/d and attempting to bring the combined production of the Nasr and Umm Lulu fields up to 170,000 bbl/d as soon as 2018. Exploration and production in the other Emirates is limited, with reserves nearly exhausted and the cost of recovery continuing to climb.
The newest export pipeline, The Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline (ADCOP), runs 230 miles from Habshan to Fujairah and began operations in June 2012. This pipeline gives the UAE a direct link from the rich fields of its western desert to the Gulf of Oman, and from there to global markets. This provides the UAE—and global markets—a strategic alternative to the problematic Strait of Hormuz, which is the world's most important energy chokepoint (see EIA’s World Oil Transit Chokepoints analysis brief). In 2011 17 million bbl/d of crude oil passed through the Strait of Hormuz, which was almost 20 percent of the world's traded oil and 35 percent of all seaborne-traded oil.
The inauguration of the ADCOP is the most significant development in the UAE's midstream profile to date. With a capacity of 1.5 million bbl/d—and expectations of that figure reaching 1.8 million bbl/d in the near future—this pipeline provides the UAE with the ability to export close to 75 percent of its daily production without passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC)—owned by the government of Abu Dhabi—led the pipeline project, and it will be operated by ADCO.
Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline (ADCOP)