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Pearl GTL: building the world’s largest gas to liquids plant

The drive is on to make tomorrow's transport fuels and lubricants on a large scale from clean-burning natural gas. Construction of the world's largest gas to liquids (GTL) plant, Pearl GTL in Qatar, is a major step towards meeting the world’s growing demand for cleaner energy.

The plant, a joint development by Qatar Petroleum and Shell, will process about three billion barrels-of-oil-equivalent over its lifetime from the world’s largest single non-associated gas field, the North Field, which stretches from Qatar’s coast out into the Gulf. The North Field contains more than 900 trillion cubic feet of gas, about 15% of worldwide gas resources.*

Pearl GTL will produce cleaner-burning diesel and kerosene, base oils for top-tier lubricants, a chemical feedstock called naphtha, which is used to make plastics, and normal paraffin, which is used to produce detergents.

It will produce enough fuel to fill over 160,000 cars a day and enough synthetic base oil each year to make lubricants for more than 225 million cars.

Construction progress

The construction of Pearl continues apace at Ras Laffan, a vast industrial zone the size of Amsterdam on Qatar’s coast, some 90 kilometres north of Doha. More than 40,000 workers from more than 50 nations currently work on a building site almost the size of New York’s Central Park, making it one of the world’s largest industrial developments.

Two million tonnes of prefabricated parts for the GTL plant and equipment, including 12,200 kilometres of cables and enough steel to make 10 Eiffel towers, are on their way from five continents. About half has already arrived from places as far away as Japan and the UK.

A gigantic crane is currently lowering steel GTL reactors - at 1,200 tonnes each is as heavy as seven jumbo jets - on to concrete bases in the heart of the plant. Twelve of the 24 cylinder-shaped reactors central to making GTL products have been installed so far. Some are built in Germany. Barges ferry the giant reactors, each containing hundreds of kilometres of pipes along the Rhine to the Dutch port of Rotterdam. From there, they are shipped to Qatar.

Drilling under way

Sixty kilometres offshore, preparations to produce the raw gas from the North Field are well under way. Two platforms sitting in water up to 40 metres deep will feed gas to the plant. The steel structures, or jackets, to support the platform are already in place on the seabed. The upper sections of the production platforms, or topsides, are being built in shipyards in Dubai. When complete, barges will take them out into Gulf where a crane will lift them on to the platform legs. Raw gas will flow to Pearl GTL from these two platforms. Eleven wells are currently being drilled per platform, with record drilling times achieved for the field.

Two underwater 30-inch-diameter pipelines will carry the raw gas to Ras Laffan. Once it arrives onshore, a traditional gas separation plant will extract ethane, LPG and condensates. The ethane will be used locally for the chemical industry to produce ethylene, used to make everyday items like plastic bags. The LPG is generally used for heating and cooking and the condensates as refinery feedstock. The process will also remove contaminants like metals and sulphur. The sulphur will be extracted from the gas, turned into pellets, and shipped to the nearest market where it can be used to make hydrosulphuric acid, fertilizer, or turned into other valuable products.

Turning gas into liquid fuel

What remains is a clean gas (methane) which will then flow to the GTL section of the plant, where it will be converted in a three-stage process into a range of gas to liquids products using Shell proprietary technology. First, the methane reacts with oxygen to create synthesis gas in reactors operating at up to 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 Fahrenheit). Then, the synthesis gas is converted into liquid waxy hydrocarbons in the Fischer-Tropsch process.

Finally, the liquid waxy hydrocarbons are upgraded using specially developed technology involving novel catalysts into a wide range of products, including transport fuels, base oils and feedstocks for the chemical industry.

The oxygen for the process will be made in the world’s largest industrial oxygen separation plant, consisting of eight oxygen separators, each as tall as a 20-storey building. Four of the eight are already in place. They will suck in air, liquefy it by chilling it to -180 degrees Celsius (-292 Fahrenheit), then separate oxygen from nitrogen and generate over 20,000 tonnes of oxygen a day.

"It will be an engineering marvel, and will provide cleaner fuels and products for customers right across the world for many decades," says Shell’s Country Chairman in Qatar, Andy Brown. "The North Field has about 15% of the world’s gas resources, so this plant has a very long term future, and our children and our children’s children will benefit from it."

Producing water in the desert

Pearl GTL sits in the desert, where summer temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and rainfall is slight. Conserving water is therefore critical. Pearl was designed to be self-sufficient in terms of water use. The gas to liquids conversion process produces one barrel of water for every barrel-of-oil-equivalent produced when the hydrogen in the natural gas reacts with oxygen. All the water produced will be treated in a plant that has a capacity to treat 300,000 barrels of water a day, enough to supply a town of one million people. Most of the water will be used and re-used in the GTL plant, and some for irrigation on the building site.

Boosting output ten-fold

Shell engineers are building on more than 30 years of experience, including building the world’s first commercial-scale GTL plant in Bintulu, Malaysia in 1993. Pearl’s output of GTL products will be 10 times bigger. The new plant’s reactors are closely modelled on Shell’s tried and tested equipment at the Bintulu plant located in Malaysia. That reduces scale-up risk and provides operational flexibility, for instance to carry out maintenance without having to interrupt all production.

Pearl is a fully integrated project spanning production from an offshore gas field to finished marketable products.

*source: Oil & Gas Journal

More information

For more information, interview requests or photography, please contact:
Kirsten Smart or Wendel Broere at Shell Media Relations
T: +31 (0)70 377 3600

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The companies in which Royal Dutch Shell plc directly and indirectly owns investments are separate entities. In this announcement "Shell", "Shell group" and "Royal Dutch Shell" are sometimes used for convenience where references are made to Royal Dutch Shell plc and its subsidiaries in general. Likewise, the words "we", "us" and "our" are also used to refer to subsidiaries in general or to those who work for them. These expressions are also used where no useful purpose is served by identifying the particular company or companies. ''Subsidiaries'', "Shell subsidiaries" and "Shell companies" as used in this announcement refer to companies in which Royal Dutch Shell either directly or indirectly has control, by having either a majority of the voting rights or the right to exercise a controlling influence. The companies in which Shell has significant influence but not control are referred to as "associated companies" or "associates" and companies in which Shell has joint control are referred to as "jointly controlled entities". In this announcement, associates and jointly controlled entities are also referred to as "equity-accounted investments". This announcement contains forward-looking statements concerning the financial condition, results of operations and businesses of Royal Dutch Shell. All statements other than statements of historical fact are, or may be deemed to be, forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are statements of future expectations that are based on management's current expectations and assumptions and involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results, performance or events to differ materially from those expressed or implied in these statements. Forward-looking statements include, among other things, statements concerning the potential exposure of Royal Dutch Shell to market risks and statements expressing management's expectations, beliefs, estimates, forecasts, projections and assumptions. These forward-looking statements are identified by their use of terms and phrases such as "anticipate", "believe", "could", "estimate", "expect", "intend", "may", "plan", "objectives", "outlook", "probably", "project", "will", "seek", "target","risks", "goals", "should" and similar terms and phrases. There are a number of factors that could affect the future operations of Royal Dutch Shell and could cause those results to differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements included in this announcement, including (without limitation): (a) price fluctuations in crude oil and natural gas; (b) changes in demand for Shell's products; (c) currency fluctuations; (d) drilling and production results; (e) reserve estimates; (f) loss of market and industry competition; (g) environmental and physical risks; (h) risks associated with the identification of suitable potential acquisition properties and targets, and successful negotiation and completion of such transactions; (i) the risk of doing business in developing countries and countries subject to international sanctions; (j) legislative, fiscal and regulatory developments including potential litigation and regulatory effects arising from recategorisation of reserves; (k) economic and financial market conditions in various countries and regions; (l) political risks, including the risks of expropriation and renegotiation of the terms of contracts with governmental entities, delays or advancements in the approval of projects and delays in the reimbursement for shared costs; and (m) changes in trading conditions.

All forward-looking statements contained in this announcement are expressly qualified in their entirety by the cautionary statements contained or referred to in this section. Readers should not place undue reliance on forward-looking statements. Each forward-looking statement speaks only as of the date of this announcement, December 4th, 2008. Neither Royal Dutch Shell nor any of its subsidiaries undertake any obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement as a result of new information, future events or other information. In light of these risks, results could differ materially from those stated, implied or inferred from the forward-looking statements contained in this announcement. Please also refer to the Annual Report and Form 20-F for the year ended December 31, 2007 for a description of certain important factors, risks and uncertainties that may affect Shell's businesses.

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High resolution images of the Pearl GTL Qatar project and downloadable versions of the video interview are available for journalistic purposes.