• SCOPE OF WORK

    Project management

  • VALUE

    $2.3 billion

  • SCHEDULE

    1991–1993

  • BUSINESS

    Oil, Gas & Chemicals and Government Services

In a heroic effort following the Gulf War in 1991, Bechtel and an international team needed just nine months to cap 650 damaged or burning oil wells in Kuwait.

When Bechtel arrived in war-ravaged Kuwait in March 1991, experts predicted that quelling the oil-field inferno and restoring production of hydrocarbons would take up to five years. The team brought the burning and gushing oil wells under control in just eight months, and in 12 months oil production was restored to pre-war capacity.

Bechtel mobilized an international force of more than 16,000 workers to put out the wellhead fires, stop the gushing flow of oil, and help resurrect the Kuwait oil fields. Further, after Saddam Hussein’s army escalated Iraq’s war on the environment by releasing more than 11 million barrels of oil into the gulf, Bechtel swiftly coordinated the effort to clean up the water and shoreline. 

Bechtel has proven time and again that they can really deliver when faced with a challenge.

 Dr. Nizar Tawfiq, vice president of the Saudi Meteorology and Environmental Protection Administration

  • Following the Gulf War, Bechtel and an international team capped 650 damaged or burning oil wells in Kuwait
  • While experts predicted that restoring output could take five years, the team achieved prewar production levels in 12 months
  • Welders work under the blanket of smoke and petroleum mist that covered most of Kuwait
  • Bechtel mobilized a team of over 16,000 workers to extinguish the fires, stop the flow of oil and resurrect Kuwait’s oil fields
  • The team built reservoir systems and pipelines that could deliver 20 million gallons (nearly 67 million liters) of water a day to the firefighting effort
  • Shielded by corrugated steel, crews used explosives, well sealant and even a jet engine to extinguish the fires
  • Crews fighting the blazes had to endure temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,100 degrees Celsius)

A blanket of smoke and petroleum mist lay over most of Kuwait. At high noon, people often used flashlights to see the street curbs.

Kuwait oil field on fire

Oil first gushed into the gulf in January 1991, following Iraqi sabotage at Kuwait’s Sea Island Terminal. The flow from that loading facility, as well as from oil tankers, formed a thick slick roughly 25 miles long by 10 miles wide (40 by 16 kilometers). “It’s black, smelly, and filled with death,” said the head of Bechtel’s project management team. Saudi shores bore the brunt of the slick, and Bechtel helped the Saudi Arabian government respond to the world’s largest oil spill.

Early recovery

Experts had estimated it would take decades for a complete environmental recovery. But the Bechtel-led team beat expectations. For example, crews completed the clean-up of Karan Island, offshore Saudi Arabia near Jubail, just in time for endangered green and hawksbill sea turtles, which for generations had used Karan as a nesting ground starting in early May.

By mid-1991 the effects of the clean-up effort were already clearly visible as fish and dolphin returned to swim in the Gulf. The region continued to recover ahead of expectations.

Beyond the Fires

Beyond the fires 

After the completion of the firefighting effort, Kuwait Oil Company invited Bechtel to present our plan for the reconstruction of the oil fields, production, and exporting facilities. We were awarded the project, named Al Tameer (Arabic for "The Reconstruction") and immediately got to work.

Our team of 16,000 workers using 6,000 pieces of construction equipment:

  • rebuilt offshore export piers
  • laid pipe extending more than 1,200 miles (some 2,000 kilometers)
  • reconstructed tank farms, administration buildings, and warehouses
  • rebuilt 22 gathering centers using modular construction to accelerate the process
  • installed a telecommunications system that included 6,500 telephones and portable radios

We restored oil production to prewar capacity in just 12 months.