Jebel Fahud

January 2006 (English only)

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Fahud 50 years on

Geological Society of Oman -GSO- fieldtrip 19-20 January 2006, commemorating the spudding-in of oil exploration well Fahud-1 on 18 February 1956.

(Fahud is probably linked to the Arabic word Fhd, which is a wild cat, which I have found linked to lynx as well as leopard)

The story below is a short narrative of the geological fieldtrip organised by the Geological Society of Oman on 19 and 20 February 2006 to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the spudding-in of the Fahud-1 exploration well on 18 February 1956.

This well was drilled following the mapping of the surface structure of the anticlinal structural by a geological team (IPC) led by Mike Morton. His son, Quintin, and one of the geologists of the original geological party, Don Sheridan, joined the trip. Both Don and Quintin have written books about the Fahud adventure (see references).

The picture left shows Don Sheridan (left), Mike Morton (right) with the rig drilling at Fahud-1.

 

The political situation in Oman in the 1950's was rather unstable with many of the tribes not exactly at friendly terms with each other. The oil potential of the structure at Fahud was recognised in the late 1940's by geologists of the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC) that held an oil concession granted by Sultan bin Taimur since 1937.

Where it now takes a few hours of driving from Muscat it took years of negotiating with tribal leaders and the Sultan. IPC finally decided to approach the area from the south and organised a small army of equipment and people that landed in ex-military landingcraft at Duqm in 1954. It took them two years more and airlifting of a complete rig before they were able to spud the well at Fahud in January 1956. A majestic enterprise that made the headlines of the international news at the time. With large oil discoveries in neighbouring countries naturally the hopes for success in Fahud-1 were high. One can imagine the disappointment of all parties involved when the well tested a bit of gas and saw only a few traces of oil. At the time the geologists realised that although they had drilled near the crest of the surface anticline, they had probably drilled close to a possible fault and suggested to move the rig a few hundred metres and restart the well. If they had done that they would have discovered the big Fahud oil field then and there. As we now know, the Fahud oil field is a big tilted fault block at Natih levels, just offset to the northeast from the surface anticline, and missed by some 200m by the Fahud-1 well. Because of continuing disappointments in the exploration quest for oil most IPC partners in Petroleum Development (Oman) withdrew from the venture. Shell, a member of the group, formed another consortium with Compagnie Francaise des Petroles and Partex and continued the exploration. In 1964 oil was discovered at Fahud on the other side of a faultline from the location where IPC had sunk Fahud-1. This, with the earlier discoveries at Yibal in 1962 and Natih in 1963, made the commercial production of oil possible, with the first shipment being exported from Oman in 1967.


Fahud-1 SE (left) - NE (right) schematic cross-section illustrating the unlucky near-miss.

The drilling of Fahud-1 marks the start of the rapid changes that Wilfred Thesinger already predicted in the 1950's when he wrote down his stories about his first crossings of the area in the late 1940's. He wrote: " ...between Madhamar and Salakh two mountains which raise abrubtly from the gravel plains and run westwards in the shape of a crescent for thirty miles from the Halfain to the Amairi. I had no instruments to calculate their height but guesses that Salakh was three thousand feet and Madhamar fifteenhundred. The limestone of which they area formed had been weathered to leave no prominent features, and no vegetation was apparent on the naked rock. Both of them were dome-shaped and I thought regretfully that their formation was the sort which geologists associate with oil. But, even so, I did not anticipate that eight years later an oil company would have established a camp, made an airfield, and be drilling at Fahud not more that forty miles away......".

 

 
 

Birds-eye view to the Northeast with Jebel Fahud in the lower-middle of the image and Muscat and the Batinah coast along the top of the image. The whale-back structure is clearly visible from outer space, be-it that its southern half is almost flatly eroded and the whole Jebel looks more like the holder of a huge khanjar, the traditional Omani dagger. The distance from Muscat to Fahud is about 335 km (image created with OziOxplorer 3D)


How to get there: A drive of about 335 km from Muscat, mostly over good tarmac roads. From Muscat take Motorway to Nizwa and susbsequently the main road south to Salalah. 33 km after turning onto the Salalah road turn take the junction rightat Izz  signposted to PDO's main oil fields, Natih, Fahud and Yibal. Notice that the max speed is 100km/hr and be aware of heavy oilfield traffic. For many kilometres you will be impressed by the whaleback of Jebel Salakh dominating the southern horizon. The excellent tarmac road will take you to the Natih roundabout some 92 km further. Turn left to Fahud, which is only 24 km away. The memorial of Fahud-1( 22 17.24' N - 56 30.41 WGS 84) can be reached by taking the gravel road to the left (southwest and southwards) before reaching Fahud camp. For the Fahud-1 viewpoint you need to enter the Fahud camp area and follow the signposts with Fahud-1. 

Our fieldtrip took us along Wadi Mu'yadin, near Birkat Al Mauz, where the geological party tried to establish a correlative section when Fahud-1 was already drilling.

“The work programme was intended to continue from the same camp, with the sampling of a second gorge, located just north of Birkat el Mauz village, It was here that Suleiman bin Hamyar, one of the more famous or infamous of Oman tribal leaders, lived in splendid isolation. The importance of the Birkat El Mauz section to the company was that it was the most complete section of exposed rocks which might give clues about what the bit might be expected to penetrate as it drilled deeper at Fahud….”

From Don Sheridan’s, 2000, Fahud, the Leopard Mountain, p. 140, describing a failed attempt to survey Wadi Mi’aidin in 1956.

The attempt failed and Don mentioned that he now saw the rocks for the fist time.

The fort of Suleiman bin Hamyar still dominates the entrance of the wadi, but the early explorers in 1956 would probably have difficulties in imagining a splendid blacktop through the wadi only 50 years later.

The wadi indeed exposes what the first Fahud well penetrated and what later proved to be one of the main oil bearing reservoir successions in Oman. A time window of some whapping 150 million years, from Triassic to Upper Cretaceous, of mainly carbonate rocks, including the Shuaiba and Natih platform carbonates that home many of Oman’s oil fields.  The rocks in Wadi Mi’aidin have been subjected to deep burial and deformation associated with the Late Cretaceous ophiolite obduction and young Tertiary deformations resulting in the Oman Mountains as we see them now. The carbonate rocks are therefore not directly comparable to the reservoir rocks from which the oil in the interior basins of Oman is produced.

 

On route to Fahud a little side tour into Wadi Mu'aydin. Alan Heward (trip leader, third from right with booklet on lap) and Don Sheridan (second from the right) sitting relaxed on the falaj of the fort at the entrance to wadi Mu'aydin fifty years after failing to enter that marvelous cut through the Oman Mountains.
From Wadi Mu'aydin, our party continued via Natih to Fahud to spend the night at the old IPC campsite, but after first visiting the original wellsite.

Don Sheridan gives the most fitting description of Jebel Fahud in his book: "Climbing out of one minor wadi, the Jebel came suddenly and unexpectedly into view. It was breathtaking. The object of our professional desires since the landings in February now lay before us like a huge, smooth, arch-backed whale, overpowering in its immensity. There was not much to say. We were looking at a creation of God that few humans had ever seen."

In fact it is so big that pictures never show the whole thing in its full glory and somehow you will find yourself always too close to it. The best impression is from satellite imagery.
 

Satellite view of Jebel Fahud (Google Earth), a whale-back shaped dome (double plunging anticline) that has also been compared to the shape of a khanjar (the typical Omani dagger, see inset). Indicated are the site of well Fahud-1 and the coverage of panorama pictures 1 and 2 (below). Note the infrastructure of the Fahud oil field just stretching along the norteastern flank of the Jebel itself. Roads on this image are the white linear features. The length of the Jebel is about 27km along its axis that runs from southeast to northwest.

 


Panorama 1: within the Fahud anticline. Panorama photograph 1 to the southeast with the crowd gathered around the Fahud-1 memorial. The limestone cliff to the left is the northeastern flank of the structure, dipping away.
 

Panorama 2: On top of Jebel Fahud looking to the northeast over the main oilfield below

 

 

 

Right: Peter Walmsley, rig geologist Fahud-1 overlooking the drill-site in 1956. Left: 50 years later and with a cold Shamal wind blowing, your humble undersigned looking down at the same area. From up there it is very clear how close Fahud-1 came to discovering the Fahud oil field. Two development wells, Fahud 16 and 153 are only some 300-500 m away.  Who will be looking down in 2056?
Memorial of Fahud-1.
The pipes just a few hundred metres away lead to Fahud 153, producing oil.....
With all of our modern comforts it perhaps was most fitting that mother nature undid 50 years of technological advances by a strong shamal wind that made most of us realise that Fahud still is in the middle of a formidable desert. Our camp was not unlike that of 50 years ago. Shuram's big tent kept us out of the wind and was a great venue for Alan Heward's overview talk of the venture 50 years ago, with Quitin Morton telling us the story of his father, supported by many slides from his collection. Projecting computer slideshows and DVD-movies, using the tent as screen....Alan had also managed to get a DVD with an original colour movie of the drilling activities in 1956 out of the private archive of Peter Walmsley. For our Omani friends even a few rare shots of Sultan bin Taimur.
January 2006. Fifty years later at the campsite of Fahud-1 just southwest of the Jebel.
Henk Droste and Don Sheridan after a cold windy night.

References

Morton, Q, 2005, Geological Exploration in Oman: the early years. 5o years anniversary at Fahud, Al Hajar, GSO Newsletter November 2005, pp 2-4.  GSO November 2004

Morton, Q, 2006, In the heart of the Desert. The story of an exploration geologist and the search for oil in the Middle East. Green Mountain Press, Aylesford UK. In press.

Sheridan, D., 2000, Fahud, the Leopard Mountain. Exploration for oil in Oman and Lybia in the 1950s. The Vico Press, Dublin, ISBN 0-9537758-I-X.

Sheridan, D., Morton, Q, Heward, A., Vahrenkamp, V., Homewood, P., Mazrui, M., van den Berg. M. and Fellows, E., 2006, Spudding-in of Fahud-1, 18 January 1956, 50th anniversary field trip to Jebel Fahud. GSO Field Guide No.16.

Thesiger, W., 1959, Arabian Sands, Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd. Reprinted 2000, Motivate Publishing, Dubai, Abu Dhabi. ISBN 1 873544 75 8

 

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@ J. Schreurs January 2006