the reconstruction of Kuwait


Project Management in Action

John A. Oakland, Bechtel, Houston, Texas

Retreating Iraqi farces destroyed as much Kuwaiti petroleum production and storage facilities as possible. This destroyed crude oil tank was typical of the repair jab facing this project team

Retreating Iraqi farces destroyed as much Kuwaiti petroleum production and storage facilities as possible. This destroyed crude oil tank was typical of the repair jab facing this project team.

In late 1990, even as Saddam Hussein's army was engaged in the occupation and plunder of Kuwait, Bechtel was quietly helping to plan for the nation's recovery. From offices in Dubai, London, Houston, San Francisco, and Riyadh, specialists were trying to anticipate the problems that would accompany Kuwait's ultimate liberation.

But not even their worst-case scenarios predicted the magnitude of Hussein's destructiveness. In a final act of devastation, he had ordered the ruin of some of the world's richest oil fields, When Bechtel's advance team entered Kuwait in March 1991, just days after the rout of the Iraqi army, the black smoke from 647 burning oil wells had literally turned day into night. Nearly 100 additional wells had the valve heads blasted off and were pumping thousands of barrels of oil onto the desert floor, where it collected in enormous lakes. There was no water, no equipment, no electricity or food or facilities. Making matters worse was the unexploded ordnance—thousands of mines, bombs, shells, and grenades—scattered everywhere.

The campaign to extinguish the fires, known as Al-Awda (Arabic for The Return) was one of the most complex engineering-construction projects in history. Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), with Bechtel as project management contractor, mustered more than 10,000 workers and 186,000 tons of heavy equipment and supplies. Experts had predicted that quelling the inferno and restoring oil production would take years. In fact, oil was flowing by May 1991, and the last well was capped in November 1991.

Managing the firefighting was one of the most publicized and spectacular jobs in Bechtel's long history. But the subsequent assignment-to return the oil fields to their pre-war capacity—was even bigger in terms of human efforts and resources. That project, Al-Tameer-The Reconstruction, is the subject of this article.


Following the successful completion of Al-Awda, KOC invited Bechtel to present a program for the reconstruction of facilities damaged during the war. The project included the restoration of the following facilities:

•    15 crude oil gathering centers and desalters, including one new early. production facility

•    two gas booster stations

•    3000 km flowlines (all new construction)

•    1000 km pipelines (new and repaired)

•    restoration of marine loading terminals

•    restoration of the offshore terminal

•    construction of 10 million barrels of crude storage tankage

•    construction of 400 KM of rig and access roads

•    construction of drill rig pads for more than 300 new and workover wells

•    movement of drill rigs to new locations

•    restoration of the power distribution and cathodic protection systems

•    construction and operation of the water systems

•    construction and operation of oil recovery facilities to treat more than 20 million barrels of weathered crude

•    construction of permanent offices, workshops, warehouses, maintenance shops and housing complexes

•    planning and installing temporary and permanent communication systems

•    housing, feeding and hospital care for up to 12,000 manual and non-manual Bechtel employees

•    coordination of 16,000 Bechtel and subcontractor employees.

Given the enormity of the task, KOC's priorities were simple enough: restore petroleum production within 10 months to 1.5 million barrels per day (bbl/day). Meeting the schedule was critical to revitalizing Kuwait's petroleum-based economy. For Bechtel, it was an extremely challenging commitment given the unknown scope of damage. For example, we were forced to use order-of-magnitude methods for our initial cost estimates. Very little was known of the condition of the gathering centers as all efforts had been concentrated on extinguishing oil well fires and capping the uncontrolled flow from damaged wells. Estimates were done quickly and summarized for the owner into 12 major categories for control purposes.


Milestone Event Key Date
Project Start Date
Project Defined
      Initial Estimate
      Definitive Estimate
      Owner Approval

Jan. 15, 1992
Jul. 15, 1992
Dec. 11, 1992
Completion Date
(1.5 million bbl/day capacity)
Oct. 13, 1992
Contract Closeout
(2.8 million bbl/day capacity)
Jun. 30, 1993


Below are the facts and figures for the unprecedented emergency program to control 647 oil well fires, cap 751 wells, and restore Kuwait's petroleum infrastructure following the Iraqi invasion. Work on the project began March 4, 1991, when the first of Bechtel staff arrived in Kuwait. The project was concluded June 30, 1993.

    A total of 36 countries on five continents were represented in an international force of 16,000 workers.

    Participating countries were Kuwait, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Thailand, New Zealand, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yugoslavia, Colombia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Afghanistan, the Philippines, India, Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, Pakistan, Trinidad, and Sierra Leone.

    More than 5,800 pieces of operating equipment, ranging from bulldozers, cranes, trucks, front loaders, ambulances and other support vehicles were shipped to the job. A total of 742 aircraft and seagoing vessels were deployed to ship over 520,000 tons of equipment and materials to Kuwait in support of the project.

    A total of 360 lagoons were excavated, lined with heavy plastic sheeting and filled with up to one million gallons of water each, for use in fighting the oil well fires.

    The four original firefighting teams—Boots &Coots, Red Adair, Safety Boss and Wild Well Control-were mobilized during March and April 1991. Between August and October 1991, they were joined by teams from Kuwait, Iran, China, Hungary, Great Britain, France, Canada, Romania and Russia. A total of 27 firefighting teams were deployed. Each team was made up of 10 firefighters, and between 20 to 40 support personnel.

    Explosive ordnance disposal teams cleared 500 square miles of land of unexploded ordnance, destroying more than 23,000 explosive devices-land mines, rockets, grenades and unexploded bombs.

    Six full-service dining halls and support staff provided about 3.5 million meals for workers during the firefighting campaign. The daily average peaked at about 35,000 meals. This number increased when an additional workforce was required to accomplish the Al-Tameer phase of the project.

    Over 10 million cubic meters of gatch—a sand and gravel mixture, which was readily available from the desert—were hauled into the oil fields for use in constructing more than 250 miles of access roads and work areas for heavy equipment and drilling rigs.

    An estimated 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, of water and oil pipelines were involved in the Al-Awda project. The water pipelines had a capacity of delivering 25 million gallons a day to the fire sites. Pumps and hoses were capable of delivering 6,000 gallons of water each minute to extinguish a blaze.


•    By April 1993, more than 11 million barrels of weathered crude oil were reclaimed from oil pits and lakes. Vacuum trucks and pipelines were utilized in the reclamation work to pump directly to Mina Al-Ahmadi refinery and field treatment plants.

•    After the war, a complete communication system was installed that includes 23 satellite telephone systems, 4,500 telephones, and 2,000 portable radios.

•    A 24-hour safety program was established consisting of two helicopter medevac teams, a 40-bed hospital constructed by Al-Awda workers, and approximately 100 professional medical personnel, paramedics, and support staff, on duty at seven medical stations.

•    A total of 1,800 miles of new flowlines were constructed in the rehabilitation of gathering centers.

•    The last well was capped and the last fires extinguished on November 6, 1991.

•    The first postwar oil was pumped through two of the original 26 gathering centers beginning May 26, 1991.

PMNETwork • May 1994



Related Content

  • PMI Case Study

    Saudi Aramco member content open

    This in-depth case study outlines a project to increase productivity with Saudi Arabian public petroleum and natural gas company, Saudi Aramco.

  • PM Network

    High-Wire Act member content open

    By Parsi, Novid Seven years ago, government leaders in Alberta, Canada vowed to take a major step toward addressing the energy needs of the growing province. The resulting transmission line, the longest of its kind…

  • PM Network

    Proyecto de alta tensión member content open

    By Parsi, Novid Hace siete años, los líderes gubernamentales de Alberta, Canadá, se comprometieron a dar un paso importante para abordar las necesidades energéticas de la provincia en crecimiento. La línea de…

  • PMI White Paper

    The Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Project Business member content open

    By Project Management Institute | Project Business Foundation This is a report on the results of a survey jointly conducted by PMI and the Project Business Foundation. The intention was to replace observations and opinions with reliable data. The mission was…

  • PM Network

    Virtual Count member content open

    By Parsi, Novid The United States government is about to embark on one of its highest-stakes IT projects ever—the nation's first digital census. Households will complete online surveys, and field workers will…