Project Management Institute


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.

As part of this project, explosive ordnance disposal teams cleared more than 23,000 explosive devices from a 500-square-mile area

As part of this project, explosive ordnance disposal teams cleared more than 23,000 explosive devices from a 500-square-mile area.

Bechtel's role in A1-Awda had provided KOC with an instant capability. Professional staff, construction equipment and techniques, worldwide recruiting capabilities, planning expertise, and a global procurement reach enabled us to move rapidly from firefighting support to reconstructing the oil fields and much of the infrastructure.

But the demands were enormous even for a company with Bechtel's mega-project experience. For engineering, teams were mobilized from regional offices in Houston, Gaithersburg (Md.), London, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ultimately more than 200 engineers from all disciplines were assembled to execute design work for the gathering centers, booster stations, export facilities, flow-line and pipeline systems, and other restoration work. Throughout the course of the project, they logged more than 450,000 labor-hours and produced some 4,500 major drawings. For the procurement, construction and support staff that would form the nucleus of our project planning and management group, we reached into more than 30 countries.

To execute the task, the project was broken into components managed by separate task forces (see organization chart). In essence, each component represented a major project in itself, and each task force was responsible for its own on-site engineering, procurement (including traffic and logistics), and construction. Automation technology was fully integrated into engineering, procurement, controller, project controls, and project management systems.


“200 POUNDS OF LAVA,” shouted the voice on the other end of the phone early Sunday morning. “Lava by tomorrow, or the firefighters are going to walk!”

“That was the most unusual request we received,” recalled Tom Cullins, traffic and logistics supervisor on the Al-Awda project. Cullins was managing Bechtel's Houston Office procurement center the weekend that Bechtel received the call.

“Seems the firefighters were unhappy with the quality of the locally-acquired soap,” said Cullins. “They were distraught over their inability to thoroughly wash their hands at night!”

“Have you ever tried to purchase 200 pounds of soap on a Sunday morning?”

Cullins enlisted the aid of his wife, Gloria, who immediately began the quest by phone, later by foot. After many calls and visits to neighborhood grocers, the Cullins' found the task to be more difficult than expected. “The grocery store managers thought I was absolutely nuts!” said Gloria, who made most of the calls.

“Finally, we met Calvin Griffin, assistant manager at Kroger's in Houston, who believed our story. He located 200 pounds of Lava at their warehouse across town.”

After writing a personal check for $700, loading up the Lava, and driving to Houston Intercontinental Airport, Cullins and his wife loaded the soap on an Air France jet bound for Kuwait that evening. Within 24 hours, the firefighters had their Lava!

“The true beauty of the story is that Calvin Griffin realized we weren't crackpots,” said Cullins. “He spent several hours of his time, plus that of his employees' time, to go that extra mile for us!”

Griffin said he's used to rush orders. “I used to own a pizza place. Urgency is a way of business.”

One of 360 firefighting lagoons used to extinguish oil well fires. Each lagoon held up to one million gallons of water

One of 360 firefighting lagoons used to extinguish oil well fires. Each lagoon held up to one million gallons of water.

Task force leaders had complete EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction) responsibility for cost, schedule and quality of work. They interfaced directly with the KOC Operations and Maintenance organizations to ensure that owner input was received in a timely manner. Daily progress briefings eventually gave way to weekly meetings as the scope of the work became more defined and KOC moved back into an operating mode.

Project controls staff and systems were employed to support owner appropriation approval, estimating new scopes of work, cost reporting for project task force control, and planning and scheduling support of all work activities. In addition, on-site support staff were used for controller, human resources, automation technology, asset management, camps and catering functions.


The management team required to rebuild the petroleum infrastructure was radically different from that required to support the firefighters. A senior vice president—one of Bechtel's most experienced upstream project managers—was selected to head up Al-Tameer. His second-in-command was a Bechtel vice president and senior project manager who had just completed the task of leading a regional office project in support of A1-Awda. Nine project managers directed the restoration work, and relied on local functional management to provide staff and work processes. All of the key personnel were long-time Bechtel employees, with the single exception of an individual recruited for his knowledge of Kuwait.


The execution plan called for salvage teams to physically walk each damaged facility and conduct a visual examination for the replacement of equipment and materials in order to expedite the requisition process. As orders were placed, computerized engineering takeoff systems were tied to the warehouse inventory methods used by Bechtel and KOC to ensure the material management system was responsive to construction needs.

Reconstruction of the Mina Ahmadi Refinery

Reconstruction of the Mina Ahmadi Refinery

A large team of contract specialists was assembled to act as agents for KOC to place critical contracts. Major equipment was ordered using some KOC documents, but initial bulk material requisitions were issued on the basis of preliminary quantity estimates. This was necessary to obtain early quotations from suppliers in the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Earliest delivery dates were the controlling factor on purchasing.

Although larger contracts for tankage, flowline and pipeline construction went to international contractors, over half of the contracts were awarded to Kuwaiti contractors. This was consistent with KOC's goal of ensuring the revitali-zation of the Kuwaiti business sector as quickly as possible.

The project budget was broken into 12 major categories of scope and those categories were subdivided into the project code of accounts. All requisitions were prepared by project management and all requisitions over $100,000 were reviewed by the Manager of Projects and transmitted to KOC for approval. A trend program was established whereby all trends in excess of $100,000 were reviewed by the A1-Tameer management team, which included the owner.

The major risk to the project was the possibility of materials not being available in Kuwait or the Middle East, thereby jeopardizing the schedule. The procurement team kept a constant pulse on material availability around the world and, with approval of project management, often had to fill orders by air freight. Bechtel maintained a large staging area in Dubai, established during the firefighting phase, to receive both air and sea freight. The base was maintained until September 1992, when the two Kuwaiti seaports and the airport became fully operational.

The reconstruction of gathering centers, booster stations, and part of the flowline/pipeline work was done on a direct-hire basis because of schedule considerations. The EPC teams, under the direction of the project managers, worked on an extremely close basis to define the work through engineering deliverables for the procurement and construction efforts.

Engineering and construction staff also worked closely to plan the sequence of construction work and to ensure the facilities with the least damage were the first priority for completion. The master schedule developed for A1-Tameer became the driving force. It set the drilling contractors program for new well drilling and well workover. That, in turn, established the engineering schedule for Bechtel engineers to design the flowline systems which provided the program for three flowline installation contractors. Bechtel also reconstructed the water systems that fed the gathering centers. Pipeline engineers and field crews tested all crude, gas and waterlines in the four main oil fields of Kuwait and the lines that served the tank farms and export facilities.

Control systems were established to collect and monitor costs by task force so that the project teams had complete records of commitments by facilities. The order-of-magnitude estimates of the facility reconstruction were upgraded by estimators when design work was approximately 50 percent complete.

To appreciate the full complexity of Al-Tameer, consider two projects: the refurbishment of a single gathering center desalter, and the reconstruction of South Pier. They were not larger or necessarily more difficult than other jobs at the time. But they are representative of the effort required to help Kuwait regain its footing in the world oil market.


Rehabilitating the gathering centers (GCs) was a critical element in restoring Kuwait's capacity. Of the 26 facilities, 22 had been destroyed, or sustained such heavy damage that they had to be rebuilt.

Some facilities, like the desalter processing unit at GC-9 in the Magwa Field, had been under construction prior to the invasion and were never completed. Designed to improve the quality of crude oil by removing water and salt, the unit would add 60,000 bbl/day of high-grade crude oil to GC-9's output, approximately doubling the center's capacity. Abandoned by its Russian construction team when the war broke out, the unit had been assigned a top priority by KOC.

After ordnance disposal squads cleared the area, the first task was to clean the site. Tanks and pipes were covered with crude. Fires continued to burn in the area, reducing visibility, and oil was leaking from flowlines. Despite the desert heat, workers were required to wear mask and goggles. For three weeks, a 113-man crew used scrapers and rags to clean the thick oil from the site entirely by hand. Every pipe, cable, and building was scrubbed in three washings, first with kerosene, then scalding water at 2,000 pounds pressure, and finally a cleaning chemical to remove the remaining hydrocarbons and kerosene.


Bechtel is a San Francisco-based, global engineering-construction organization. It provides premier technical and management services to develop, manage, engineer, build and operate installations and performs other related services to improve the standard of living and quality of life worldwide.


Founded in the Oklahoma Territory 95 years ago, Bechtel is a privately held company and has been under the leadership of its founding family for four generations. Riley P. Bechtel, great-grandson of the founder, is president and chief executive officer of Bechtel Group, Inc., the holding company for the organization. His father, Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., is chairman emeritus.

Building on its initial success in railroad work, the company's scope of expertise has grown to include dams, bridges, pipelines, power plants, space facilities, and much more. Bechtel, an organization of 30,900 employees, has handled diverse projects in more than 135 countries on all seven continents.

Diversity is a key strength of Bechtel and reflecting the breadth of the organization are Bechtel's principal operating companies: Bechtel Civil Company; Bechtel National, Inc.; Bechtel Petroleum, Chemical &Indus-trial Company; Bechtel Power Corporation; Bechtel Construction Company; and Becon Construction Company, Inc. Another unit, Bechtel Enterprises, Inc., provides expanded assistance to clients in the development, financing, and execution of projects.

Bechtel's unique ability to manage complexity, on projects large and small, is supported by a wide variety of services including project financing, a worldwide procurement operation, automation technology, community relations, and the U.S. engineering industry's largest research and development staff.

Mirroring an increasingly integrated world, Bechtel also participates in a number of transnational partnerships and alliances. It teams its worldwide network of resources with local companies to provide added value to customers.

At the end of 1992, Bechtel was working for 750 clients on almost 1,400 active projects and studies. Recent project highlights include the Channel Tunnel between France and England; Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel project; Jubail, a new industrial city for 275,000 in Saudi Arabia; a 170-mile segment of the Trans-National highway system in Turkey; the Pacific Gas & Electic-Pacific Gas Transmission (PG&E-PGT) pipeline expansion project; Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, and Kutubu oil field in Papua New Guinea.

In 1992, Bechtel completed work totaling $7.8 billion, a 4 percent increase and an eight-year high.

With the site cleared and cleaned, the construction manager began the difficult task of coordinating materials and personnel from the civil, piping, and instrumentation groups. Because the original construction plans had been lost or destroyed, civil work involved a large amount of digging-by hand—simply to locate the cables and pipes. After installing fences, flume lines, and path walks, civil handed the job over to 112 pipefitters and welders. Pipe was strewn like spaghetti. The team was drenched in oil and water for days, in addition to enduring gas fumes.

Following the piping crew were 29 technicians and fitters responsible for the complex instrumentation, who were occasionally forced to rummage through debris for basic equipment.

By dint of creativity and sheer perseverance, the 414-man multinational workforce representing engineering, procurement, and construction had worked for five months to overcome all obstacles and bring the desalter into production—on time. It was, in the words of project manager Bob Wilk, “an example of superb cooperation between many different disciplines and nationalities.”


The South Pier was an essential link in Kuwait's export of liquid petroleum gas (LPG). Before the war, it had been a complex web comprising thousands of meters of gas and oil pipelines, and complex electrical and instrumentation systems for product loading and firefighting.

Explosives had left the South Pier a mass of twisted steel beams and shattered timbers. A 120-meter stretch of pier was completely submerged, and its steel piles, supports and structures were devastated. At the end of the pier, one kilometer from the shore, lay the charred form of an anti-aircraft gun. The adjacent harbor for small boats was filled with abandoned military armament, including a sunken Iraqi gunboat and eight other vessels.

The objective was to get Berths 4 and 10 and all essential systems operational and ready for loading LPG onto tankers by March 1992. The job would require a finely coordinated engineering, procurement, safety, and construction team, as well as a small army of 300 electricians, carpenters, welders, riggers, heavy equipment operators, millwrights, pipefitters, instrument fitters, and ironworkers.

Construction began only after the ordnance disposal team cleared the pier above and below water. Rebuilding the walkway was a top priority to permit a clear access for workers and equipment. But doing so required removing tons of mangled steel piles and deck supports. Some 60 riggers were required to cut out the old piles and supports and install new ones. Because the confined area permitted only limited use of a crane, the team relied on manual labor and the use of pneumatic winches.

As new piles and supports were placed, a crew of carpenters worked on repairing the wooden decking. The structure would require more than 4,000 Malaysian hardwood timbers, each one being cut, drilled, finished and placed by a crew of 17 “lumberjacks.” Each timber weighed 220 kilograms and took four lumberjacks to carry. They were put into place with sledgehammers to obtain a perfect fit.

After obtaining access to the pier, it took five piping teams to replace more than 5,000 meters of bomb- and fire-damaged piping systems. Gas in the damaged pipe created a constant danger of explosion, so the crew used cold-cutting procedures to guard against sparks. Every line was tested for gas before new pipe was welded.

In addition to structural and piping work, the pier required extensive repair and replacement of electrical and instrumentation systems. The fire prevention system, for example, was ravaged by fire and required complete refurbishment. Approximatel y 170 valves for controlling the flow of oil and LPG were completely overhauled, tested, reinstalled and checked.

Perhaps the most formidable challenge of the entire job was at Berths 4 and 10. Here, 11 giant loading arms were badly in need of repair. Four were repaired in place, but seven of the 35-ton assemblies had to be removed, transported to shore, completely disassembled, refurbished, cleaned, lubricated, and, finally, reassembled and replaced on the pier.

After all systems had been tested, the South Pier was deemed ready to handle its first shipment of LPG. On March 23,1992, the tanker Gas Al-Ah-madi docked at the newly refurbished Berth 10. Three days later the ship, fully loaded with 80,000 tons of LPG, got under way for Japan. Kuwait had completed its first export of LPG since the occupation.


At Bechtel, training has long been recognized as key to successful project execution. Upon arriving in Kuwait, however, one might not have imagined that there would be the time or inclination for team building sessions or project management training. Not so.

Although all project personnel were on an extended work week of 60 hours, most employees worked hours well in excess of that. Given the unusually demanding nature of the work and our extremely aggressive goals, we placed a heavy emphasis on team building and continuous improvement (CI). Both programs have been in place at Bechtel for some time. What made our initiative unusual is that it was undertaken without the permanent office infrastructure normally associated with such training.

Six months after the project team was in place, we started our first project management training course using material developed in our Houston office. All Al-Tameer project managers completed the course. We started CI training two months later using Bechtel consultants from the United States. In one week we put 50 managers and key supervisors through the 16-hour program. Through the subsequent efforts of a CI steering committee and a full-time CI facilitator, more than 350 expatriate and third-country nationals received similar training. After a KOC supervisor recommended the program to his superiors, we presented our CI story to 22 top KOC managers, and were then invited back to make the same presentation to 50 additional managers and supervisors.

All of these sessions were supplemented by visits and onsite management assistance provided by our Houston office. Ultimately, more than 1,200 individuals—nearly half of our non-manual staff—received quality management instruction. The results were dramatic. Our teams soon began to issue wide-ranging recommendations on methods to improve Bechtel and KOC work processes to improve the EPC integration.

I am convinced that the training conducted in Kuwait paid dividends, both for KOC and for every employee who received the building blocks to help them succeed on their next assignment.   ❏


John A. Oakland was manager of Al-Tameer Projects for Bechtel from May 1992 to April 1993.

He is a senior vice president of Bechtel Corporation and manager of petroleum and chemical operations for the Western and Asia Pacific regions. John joined Bechtel is 1965 and has served as project manager on a number of assignments. He was president of the Houston PMI Chapter from 1985-86. An engineering graduate of Iowa State University,]ohn and his wife have two daughters and live in Houston.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PMNETwork • May 1994



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