Course at Saudi Aramco, Dhahran, March 2017

Course at UPDC, Saudi Aramco, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, March 19th to 23rd, 2017

I have visited Saudi Aramco at least four times in the last 5 years, the first time on a business trip and the last three times for teaching courses to Aramco personnel. For getting a Saudi visa, residents of Calgary have to send their applications to Ottawa. This time I had to get my visa early as I was travelling to India in February, and so wanted to make sure I did not run out of time. Barely a week after getting back from my India trip, I found myself boarding a plane from Calgary on 16th March, 2017. It was a sunny afternoon, with still some snow on the ground as our KLM plane took off, and as it gained height, some low hanging clouds flew by and I was able to click a few pictures.

The flight was smooth, the food service on the plane was good and I enjoyed watching a couple of Bollywood movies and one Hollywood movie on the way. In between, I dosed off for some three to four hours. Along the way as I peeped outside the window, from a height of 37,000 ft it was a nice view of a few frozen lakes. I quickly checked to find where we were physically, and found that we just leaving Hudson Bay. We were well on our way to flying over Greenland, Iceland and the Atlantic to get to our destination.

Next morning, as we descended towards Amsterdam, it was again somewhat cloudy there, with the Sun also showing up through and through, but the outskirts of the city exhibited a green look, with some water channels and highways running through. Soon we landed after a 9 hour flight, and the plane found its way to the KLM hub and parked.

There was a 5 hour layover at Amsterdam, and so after some brisk walking at the airport, I checked in the KLM lounge for some tea and light refreshments. Our next flight to Dammam took off at 1 pm. It was a sunny afternoon with a few clouds hanging in the sky. Some windmills that Netherland is famous for, could be seen too.

I again caught up with a Hollywood movie, having watched all the Bollywood movies on the previous flight and the previous trip to India (as the movie portfolio on the plane does not change within a few weeks). After lunch it started getting somewhat dark, but I could catch a beautiful glimpse of some snowclad mountains as we were flying over Turkey or so. The map indicated the part of the globe that was still in the daylight zone, but we were approaching night time soon.

We landed at Dammam at 11 pm local time after a smooth five and a half hour flight. After completion of the immigration formalities, I boarded a taxi and headed to Dhahran.

Dhahran houses the Saudi Aramco headquarters in the form of its own self-contained campus comprising the office complex, residential areas, stores, dining halls and recreation units. The campus also has a majestic mosque in front of Al-Mujamma building. Al-Mujamma is a mall-type complex housing the mail center, travel shop, barber shop, photo shop, dry cleaners, etc.

I stayed at Steineke Hall, which is a guest house built inside the Aramco campus in honour of Max Steineke, an American petroleum geologist, who worked in Saudi Arabia from 1936 to 1950. The convenience of staying on the campus overshadows the stay at any 5-star hotel outside. Steineke Hall is strategically located such that it is a walkable distance to wherever one needs to go. Breakfast and meals can be conveniently had at the Dhahran Dining Hall in the adjoining block.

My course coordinator at Saudi Aramco was Dr. Abdulfattah Aldajani, who is the technical advisor, Geophysics and Unconventional Resources, Upstream Professional Development Center (UPDC). UPDC is housed in a very nice building with modern amenities. The lecture hall was spacious and each participant had access to a PC with two monitors. There were two large projectors in the hall and two large white boards, the latter being something up to my liking as it is my habit to explain a lot during my teaching.

My class comprised 20 Aramco participants, who were all eager to learn about seismic attributes. Some of the searching questions that they asked did tell me that they were in sync with what was being discussed in the class. On Wednesday evening I was invited to participate at the Dhahran Geoscience Society (DGS) dinner meeting, which was held at Le Meridian Hotel. DGS advances the technical and professional development of its members in the exploration and development of hydrocarbons in Saudi Arabia. As the hotel is located in Al Khobar (the main city), a luxury bus picked us up from Aramco campus and took us to the hotel venue, and brought us back as well after the event. On the whole I enjoyed very much conducting the week long course.

The DGS dinner meeting is a well-attended event having attended an earlier one a few years ago where I happened to be the speaker. At the present meeting the keynote speaker was Abdulaziz Al-Kaabi, Dean of the College of Engineering and Geoscience at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Mining (KFUPM), and talked about the ‘Integrated learning experience at the college of Petroleum Engineering and Geoscience’. The talk was followed by dinner.

The return journey from Dammam to Calgary was via Dubai and Amsterdam, as there was no direct flight. Dubai has a big airport and a modern one too. The flight from Dammam to Dubai, and then to Amsterdam were taken in the night time, but it was early morning and still dark when we reached Amsterdam. After a long layover of six and a half hours, finally boarded the next flight to Calgary. Amsterdam was cloudy, and we could see the cloud cover as the plane gained height.

After crossing Greenland I caught a glimpse of another desolate patch below and finally reached Calgary. It was nice and sunny, with little remnants of snow on the ground at places.

It was nice to be back home and in familiar surroundings.