The Jubail export refinery project in the Middle East has just moved a step closer to fruition, after Saudi Aramco Total Refining and Petrochemical Company (Satorp) approved bids for the construction contracts.

Satorp, a joint venture of Saudi Aramco and France's Total, had initially delayed the deadline for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) bids on the 400,000-b/d refinery at Jubail, Saudi Arabia.

However, it recently approved the award of the packages in a board meeting held in Paris on 16-17th June and the refinery project now appears to have taken a leap forward.

This has also been helped by the fact that the joint venture company has cut the cost of building the Jubail refinery to $9.6bn - from an estimated $12bn.

Costs to build the refinery soared to an estimated $12bn at the start of 2008 from the original $6bn budget when the project was launched in 2006, largely due to an increase in raw material prices. Yet Satorp has been able to reduce costs below the $10bn objective, after postponing the submission of EPC bids in November 2008.

The industrial gases business has a great deal to offer the refining industry in the region, especially at a downstream level where added value is sought-after.

Investment is needed to create more added value for a barrel of oil, further downstream in petrochemical projects for example - all of which requires increased gas and input from the industrial gas community itself.

Steel and aluminium production industries naturally have to be catered for with industrial gas provisions too, while consumer-focused applications such as food & beverages also present a need for gas and technology supply.

According to respected Middle East ‘intelligence’ news agency MEED, the Jubail refinery will start operations in the second half of 2013.