A Report on Five Years of Successful Operation

"...sometimes we feel that transporting oil is just incidental to the other problems we face."

Many unique problems - from watering camels to training workers of more than a dozen different nationalities in complex jobs - have been met successfully in Tapline's first five eventful years

Reprinted from THE PETROLEUM ENGINEER, April, 1956 [page 605]

Map of the route of Tapline.

DECEMBER, 1955, marked the fifth anniversary of the loading of the first tanker at the Mediterranean terminal of the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company (Tapline).

In five years, this American-owned company has transported more than half a billion barrels of crude oil over a distance of 754 miles from Qaisumah in Saudi Arabia to Sidon, Lebanon. (Its 30 and 31-in. pipe line traverses the hot gravel plains of northeast Saudi Arabia, the lava beds of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the dusty, and plains of Syria and the rock-crested mountains of Lebanon.)

These have been five eventful years; five successful years that have confirmed the soundness of the engineering and design of the pipe line, and have demonstrated the feasibility of achieving a high degree of operating efficiency under difficult and unusual conditions.

But they have been five years in which Tapline's people have had to learn the hard, way that there is a lot more involved in operating a pipe line in the Middle-East than there is in the United States and most other areas.

Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company employees look over facts and figures on safety at a display board at Rafha pump station along the Trans-Arabian pipe line system.

Many Problems Faced Company

Here are some of the unique problems with which Tapline has had to contend:

  1. Supplying through aerial and overland transport four isolated pump stations (each approximatcly 200 miles apart) in the desert of northwest Saudi Arabia with all the neccessities for efficient continuous operation. For example, the company must be prepared at all times to provide pump stations with any single one of some 26,000 storehoused items as they are required.

  2. Maintaining along the length of its pipe line a service road subject to innumerable vagaries of desert weather.

  3. Providing water not only for the needs of the pump stations, but for local and transient populations and their livestock.

  4. Providing medical and hospital care for a heterogenous work force, as well as for residents and travelers in isolated areas where medical services would not otherwise be available.

  5. Providing housing and recreation facilities for employees and the families of key personnel in isolated desert outposts.

  6. Tailoring its requirements for materials, equipment and food supplies to permit purchase of the greatest possible percentage in non-dollar currencies.

  7. Conducting its affairs in a variety of currencies generated by sales of crude oil by off taking companies in the world markets, together with the local currencies used in the countries traversed by the pipe line.

  8. Training workers of more than a dozen different nationalities to work harmoniously together and to handle responsible and complex jobs.

  9. Maintaining an efficient terminal with a high turnaround of tankers in an open roadstead at Sidon.

  10. Coping with sharp and sudden changes in temperature with corresponding pressure fluctuations in the above ground section of the line in Saudi Arabia.

  11. Depending upon a high frequency system of radio communication, often in the face of chaotic interference conditions, as its only means of rapid communication between Sidon, four pump stations in Saudi Arbia, and a delivery point in Jordan, as well as company headquarters in Beirut and tankers offshore in the Mediterranean.

  12. Maintaining constant liaison with representatives of four different governments on questions involving everything from customs and visa clearances to security and labor relations. Such matters become of first importance in an area where government laws and regulations have an unusually pronounced influence upon the day-to day activities of a private business enterprise.

  13. Maintaining sound personnel, wage and labor relations policies designed to follow a consistent pattern but at the same time to conform with the labor laws, sociological development and economic levels in four Middle Eastern countries.

  14. Educating a relatively uninformed public on the whys and wherfores of operating a pipe line and what should and should not be expected from the operation in the way of public benefits.

  15. Assisting community and regional welfare and development through charitable contributions and technical aid.

Visitors entering the office of Vice President W. R. Chandler in Beirut are struck by the presence of a bottle of a smooth black liquid prominently displayed on his desk.

"It's crude oil," Chandler will explain to the perplexed guest. "We keep it here to remind ourselves from time to time that we are still in the oil business. Sometimes we feel that transporting oil is merely incidental to other matters with which we have to concern ourselves."

It's a point well made. Tapline has problems shared by few other pipe lines anywhere. Running it is a complex and difficult business.

Like its sister company, the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), from whose gathering system it receives its daily load of crude, Tapline's basic policy is one of enlightened self interest.

That is to say, the company is convinced that its own best interests are served only if the best interests of the countries in which it operates are also served.

Tapline believes its progress is ineradicably bound up with the progress of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Thus it is active in many fields that are not properly the concern of pipe lines elsewhere.

To the maximum extent possible, Tapline employs nationals of the countries through which its pipe line runs.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the overwhelming majority of the work force is Saudi Arab. These Saudi Arabs perform their duties side-by-side with the company's American employees, as well as with a smattering of nationals of other lands who are engaged as required to handle specialized jobs for which locally recruited personnel are not yet available.

In addition to Americans and Saudi Arabs, Tapline has on its payroll men from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Bahrain, Qatar, Pakistan, Yemen, Aden, Somaliland, Holland, Norway, Italy and the British Isles.

Dr. D. Sifri administering a "shot" to C. M. Matherne, superintendent of mechanical maintenance at Turaif pump station.

Training Schools

At each of its pump stations and other points of operation, the company conducts training courses both in schools and on-the-job to equip its employees for more advanced positions.

Through a series of progress steps, employees are advanced in position and salary as rapidly as they master job requirements. Each man in a supervisory capacity is made to understand that regardless of his particular job part of this duty is to develop the latent skills and abilities of the national employees with whom he comes in contact.

This policy is paying off.

Except for an American operations foreman, one trainer and a head mechanic, the oil operations at some pump stations are now directed and carried out by locally recruited employees. Many locally recruited employees have reached the position of shift foreman, thus making it possible for pump stations to he manned entirely by non-American personnel at certain periods of the day.

Jordanians completely staff the delivery station and line maintenance camp at Qaryatain where approximately 7500 bbl of crude per month are turned over to the Jordan government. In Syria, only Syrians are employed. In Lebanon, skilled and trained nationals hold down the overwhelming majority of field and office positions.

At present, Tapline has only 120 Americans on its field payroll out of a total work force of more than 1200.

Tapline has proved that nationals of many countries and varying backgrounds can be welded into a harmonious and efficient work force. It takes pride in the fine record of continuous operations its employees have made possible over the past five years. Except when slowed by lack of crude at Qaisumah or a full terminal at Sidon, Tapline has maintained a line operating efficiency of 99.75 per cent.

And in five years the line has not experienced a single major break.

There Are Other Problems . . .

As pointed out earlier, it is in nonoil matters that Tapline encounters some of its most difficult problems.

In Saudi Arabia, Tapline has had to make water available where none was available before. As a result, thousands of bedouin and their flocks have made company pump stations their home bases. At Badanah, for example, a thriving community of more than 5000 population has grown up since the line was opened.

During the summer, the needs of the bedouin often sorely tax the capacity of the company's water systems. Last summer, at Turaif, western-most of the pump stations, more than 25,000 camels and uncounted thousands of sheep were dependent upon the company's water supply. This caused a serious shortage that was solved only when the local Saudi Arab Goverment authorities compelled a number of tribes to move to other areas.

During the exodus the company provided the travelers with water from tank trucks. Incidentally, when water is available, one camel will consume 50 gal of the precious liquid every three or four days.

Camels drink their fill at concrete watering trough near the Badanah pump station along the Trans-Arabian pipe line system.

A Private "Point Four" Program

In addition to providing water for people who live or camp near its pump stations, Tapline offers them technical services and other assistance in what has frequently been described as a "private Point Four" plan. This policy has led the company to plan and lay out townsites along the pipe line's path and to encourage private contractors and businessmen to undertake various public projects.

At present, some contractors are constructing homes for company employees while other entrepreneurs are planning shortly to offer water, electricity, ice and other utilities to local populations.

Mr. and Mrs. Charles Babb and their son, Charles, Jr., lunch in the dinette area of their home in the desert community of Badanah. Each of the Tapline pump station communities along the Trans-Arabian pipe line is a selfsufficient, complete little town, receiving mail and supplies regularly by plane and truck.

Hospitals and Housing

At three of its pump stations Qaisumah, Rafha, and Turaif Tapline operates up-to-date infirmaries, while at Badanah it maintains a wellequipped central hospital. In addition, it operates clinics in Beirut and Sidon and has the use of some seven beds in the American University Hospital in Beirut. At present more than 12,000 clinic cases per month are handled along the pipe line in Saudi Arabia. Separate facilities for women patients are provided.

Employee housing is at all times a major concern of the company. At the pump stations, it provides and maintains bachelor living accommodations and quarters for families of key personnel, as well as housing for Saudi Arab Government personnel assigned to the pipe line project. It also operates airconditioned community center buildings that contain cafeterias and recreation and library facilities.

Much of Pipe Line Above Ground

The first of Tapline's pump stations in Saudi Arabia is at Qaisumah, where Saudi Arab Government oil royalty gagers are located, and where the line joins with the Aramco gathering system. Next is Rafha, close by the Iraq frontier, followed by Badanah and Turaif. (See Table 1.)

Of the 539 miles of pipe line in Saudi Arabia, 375 miles were constructed above ground, across the flat open desert, on concrete supports. This method of construction was used in areas where continuous hard rock was encountered only a few inches below the ground surface, and was found to be considerably less costly than buried line in solid rock ditch.

Most pipe lines previously constructed above ground in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have contained expansion loops or bends to allow for expansion and contraction resulting from temperature changes. Tapline's above ground line was unique in that no such provision for expansion was made, the line having been laid perfectly straight with anchors only at changes in direction.

Thus fully restrained, there is no movement of the pipe with temperature change, with the result that the line is under either longitudinal compression or tension, depending on the temperature.

At the time the project was undertaken, there was considerable difference of opinion as to the wisdom of such construction. However, the experience of five years of continuous operation has indicated that the above ground method of construction used by Tapline is eminently practical, and highly satisfactory not only from the standpoint of initial cost, but also of maintenance.

The above ground line has the advantage of easy inspection and repair, and there is no corrosion to contend with. Maintenance costs of the aboveground line have been almost nil, in contrast to buried sections of line which are demanding increasingly heavy expenditures for corrosion protection.

Of course, such a long stretch of above-ground construction could have been undertaken only in a thinly inhabited and relatively flat, unbroken area. In Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where the population is heavier, and where the terrain is rough and broken, it was considered more desirable to bury the entire line, almost all of which involved blasting of rock ditch.

Direction sign post at Sidon Terminal, Lebanon, with distances to TransArabian pipe line system pump stations.

Large Temperature Fluctuations . . . .

The oil in the above-ground section of the line undergoes a daily temperature cycle change of 40 F in the summer and 20 F in the winter. Oil temperatures in winter reach a low of 35 deg and in summer a high of 145 deg. The temperature rise is rapid as the morning sun strikes the pipe. Resulting expansion of oil causes an increase in line pressure that arches the hydraulic gradient as much as 20 psi. As the oil cools at night the gradient is depressed.

Tapline was constructed of 30in. pipe having wall thicknesses of 7/16, 3/8, 5/16 and 1/4 in. and of 31-in. pipe with 1/4 in. wall thicknesses. The pipe is distributed so that the heaviest walls are located where operating pressures are highest. Allowable operating pressure is set at 65 per cent of yield, thus lining up decreasing allowable pressure with decreasing wall thickness or increased diameter. As a result, permissable line pressure changes sharply at those points where pipe wall is reduced or large pipe diameter is used.

Arab townsite at Badanah Saudi Arabia.

. . . Cause Operating Problems

During the first two years of operations station pressures were raised and lowered at carefully determined hours to allow for the arched gradient and thus to maintain line pressure at the controlling change or critical points at - but not over the allowable. Subsequently, allowable pressure was increased to 68 per cent of yield, at the control points only, to permit constant pressures to be maintained at the pumping stations.

Pressure Reducing System

The drop in elevation from Turaif to Sidon, three countries away, develops a shut-in pressure at Sidon of 960 psi. At full flow a back pressure of 450 psi is required to keep the pipe line packed or running full.

Maintenance of desired back pressure is accomplished through a pressure reducing system consisting of twelve 40ft sections of 3-in. pipe inside which are welded a nest of seven 1-in. pipes.

In series with each of these "friction tubes" is a pressure reducing valve which takes a portion of the pressure drop. On nine of the tubes these valves are either closed or open wide. On the remaining three tubes, the valves will throttle to maintain desired back pressure as set on the control board.

During a major change in operation such as from shut down to full -flow, or full flow to shut down - pressure changes are made in a series of steps taken alternately at Turaif and Sidon. The magnitude of each step is always such that the line will be neither over-pressured nor slacked.

Tapline control house at Sidon Terminal in Lebanon, western terminus of the TransArabian pipe line system.

Control Centers

Throughout the system, all valves used during normal operations are opened and closed by electric motors controlled from a central board. At Sidon there are two control centers. One, in the tank farm, controls the incoming stream and routes it through the main manifold into one of seven leaders to the desired tank battery. Through this same manifold tanks assigned for the loading of tankers are lined tip to desired submarine loading lines.

There are 20 tanks in the Sidon farm having a normal capacity of 188,000 bbl each and situated at. elevations ranging from 280 to 370 ft. Tankers are loaded by gravity flow regulated by a second control center located on the shore. This center also handles, through a bunker manifold, the loading of either bunker fuel or diesel. These products, available to vessels lifting crude, were once brought in by tanker but since January, 1955 have been supplied by, the Mediterranean Refining Company, located adjacent to the terminal from which it receives its crude.

Arabs on camels greet Tapline party of pipe line checkers along the right-of-way of the Trans-Arabian pipe line system. About 40 per cent of the thousand-mile line is constructed above the ground.

Continuous Operation, Added Facilities

Some of the statistics of Tapline's operation are given in Table 2. The general increase in throughput to be noted is due in part to increasing demand, which has permitted more continuous capacity operation, and to added facilities. These latter include 200-hp booster pumps, installed on the incoming line at each station, which maintain a zero or less. back pressure regardless of surge tank head, and additional tanks at Sidon to permit longer full rate operation when the port of Sidon is closed by weather.

Sidon Terminal with its 3,500,000 bbl of storage capacity and five loading berths, is well capable of dispensing the capacity of the pipe line. The efficiency of the terminal operation is a source of pride to Tapline.

During normal conditions vessels which make regular calls and are familiar with terminal routine will depart fully loaded in from 10 to 15 hours after arrival, as indicated in Table 3. The longer average times for year around operation are due to the many vessels making only a single call, and to winter storms that may delay a number of vessels for several days.

Winter storms at Sidon can be both sudden and severe. They are characterized by rapidly shifting winds that on occasion have blown vessels out of the moorings in one direction while extra lines were being run for winds from the opposite quarter. Wire preventers have been installed to supplement ships lines during such periods.

View of the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company's Sidon Terminal on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon. Oil from eastern Saudi Arabia traveling at the rate of 320,000 bbI a day comes into these tanks at the terminal. Tankers from all parts of the free world may berth at five submarine lines which lie about one mile offshore and load Arabian oil.

Terminal Facilities

The five loading berths consist of 12 to 30-in. submarine lines terminating approximately one mile offshore and 2600 ft apart. Each berth has both a bunker and a cargo line. Bunker lines are 12, 14 or 18-in. in diameter and the cargo lines are 20, 24 or 30-in. Permanent moorings in all berths consist of five steel cylindrical buoys each fitted with a pelican hook, to which ships mooring lines are attached by Tapline mooring launches. These moorings will easily accommodate the largest tankers now afloat or building.

Vessels to be moored at Sidon are boarded by a Tapline Mooring Master about one mile from the moorings. He stays aboard the vessel until it is loaded and clear of the moorings on departure. Tapline has Mooring Masters of American, British, Dutch, Norwegian and Italian nationality. This leads to better understanding and cooperation with ship's officers of the many nationalities that call at the Terminal.

Operating Procedures

At the pump stations, line pressure is increased to a maximum of 920 psi through five single stage pumps operated in series. These are driven through 1 to 6.4 speed increasers by eight cylinder, 1710-hp diesel engines operating at speeds of from 325 to 360 rpm. To provide power for auxiliary equipment and the camp in general, three 1320-hp diesels drive 800-kw direct connected generators. Power demand is such that two units remain in operation continuously. As fuel, the engines use the 35 API gravity, stabilized sour crude, drawn from the line.

To put the line in operation, Tapline employed a complete staff of American dispatchers. From the beginning, however, Lebanese trainees acted as assistants and rapidly learned the fundamentals of the job. In the past year a Lebanese assistant chief dispatcher and four shift dispatchers have handled the complete job, although the chief dispatcher checks daily to keep current on operations and to be available for consultation.

Other than keeping the line in balance at maximum or required capacity, the dispatchers' main jobs are to maintain records and to schedule the flow of oil through the Sidon terminal tank farm. This requires long-range planning at times of high storage and bad weather when maximum rate must be maintained.

A company plane landing at Badanah pump station. The Tapline communities along the Trans-Arabian pipe line system receive mail and supplies by regularly scheduled planes which fly "milk-runs" to the isolated pump station communities.

Radio Communications

The dispatchers and management maintain communication with the pump stations entirely by means of radio. The pump stations are connected by HF voice and teletype circuits to one another and to the Sidon Terminal. Oil dispatching circuits are connected from Sidon to Beirut headquarters via a VHF multichannel link. Administrative and general communication between the Beirut office and the Sidon Terminal is accomplished by dialing telephone circuits over the VHF radio link. Calls between pump stations and the Beirut office are connected by a radio operator at Sidon.

Twenty-four hour operation of oil dispatching circuits is difficult at times because of the vagaries of HF transmission and complex interference conditions. The system as originally installed utilized centrally located automatic HF relay transmitters for the oil dispatching circuits.

Due to interference conditions this had to be abandoned and the circuits were brought directly into a continuously-manned location at the Sidon terminal. Thus the operating technician on duty can make necessary adjustments as conditions change.

In the vital matter of transport, the company operates, in conjunction with Aramco, a fleet of DC-3 airplanes. These sturdy craft make on an average of three round-trip flights a week to the various pump stations, where first-class landing strips are maintained. The DC-3's serving the pump stations and other operating points are flown on an average of 200 hours every month. During an average month approximately 130 passengers are transported by air between the pump stations and Beirut. A similar passenger load is carried between the pump stations and Aramco's headquarters in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

Approximately 45,000 lb of cargo are carried by company aircraft to the pump stations each month. This cargo consists in the main of food supplies, household and personal effects of employees, spare parts and such emergency items as are required from the company's warehouse in Beirut.

Ken Curran, station superintendent at one of the pump stations in Saudi Arabia, confers with C. A.Swigart, president of the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Company. In the background are pump house and water towers of Badanah station.

Management Operations

While Tapline is an American corporation, it maintains its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, in order to exercise more effective control over pipe line operations, and to keep in closer touch with the all-important three "R" 's of any large overseas operation: Government relations, public relations, and industrial relations.

A small office is also maintained in New York to handle liaison with shareholder companies, recruiting and processing of American employees, coordination of oil movements, some phases of advanced engineering and planning, and coordination of procurement of materials which must be purchased in the United States.

Yes, running a pipe line in the Middle East is a complex task. In coping with its varied oil and non-oil problems, Tapline's management keeps one thought uppermost in mind: The pipe line must be kept competitive with tankers, especially those new super vessels coming off the ways in steadily increasing numbers. If it does not meet the competition of tankers it will not justify its existence. That is the Tapline story five years after * * *

This material was provided by John Makkinje who was with Tapline from 1953 til 1986.