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Building on Middle East success

Aubin Group, specialists in chemical solutions and materials technology, has enjoyed over 100 per cent growth in export earnings in the last three years, and received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2015 in recognition of its success in international trade. The Aberdeen-based company continues to expand in the Middle East, which represents its largest overseas market. Oil Review spoke to Ray Stirton, Aubin Group’s Dubai-based general manager.


How did Aubin first get involved in the Middle East?


We are often asked how a small Aberdeen-based company has come to have such an extensive Middle East involvement. We found that the challenging North Sea market was dominated by the supermajor services companies, which sourced their technology and chemicals through their existing supply chains. So we turned our attention to the Middle East, where market entry barriers for service companies were much lower and they lacked the access to the chemicals technology that we can provide. We began supplying several small companies, and over the following 25 years we have maintained many of these relationships and, as they’ve grown, we’ve grown. We provide the pressure pumping service companies with their chemical technology and occasionally develop products specifically for them, enabling them to compete against the supermajors.


You have experienced particularly strong growth in your sales to the Middle East. What is the secret of your success?


I don’t believe that there is any secret to success, just a strong desire to understand our customers’ challenges and ensure we are fully aligned towards meeting these. Aubin established a reputation for innovation and delivering differentiating chemical technology to our customers many years ago; however it is also vital this should be combined with local support infrastructure. Therefore the vast majority of our products required in the Middle East are now manufactured and stocked in the UAE, and we have recently established a stocking facility in Saudi Arabia in cooperation with Rawabi Trading.


In 2014, we opened a new office in Dubai - Aubin Energy DMCC - from where we provide technical and commercial support to our customers. It is this commitment to our customers in the Middle East that helped Aubin win a Queen’s Award for International Trade. Our ability to demonstrate an understanding of the region and to forge strong partnerships have also been key to our success.


How are you looking to further develop your business in the region?


We continue to develop our product ranges and have introduced new fluid loss, dispersant and high temperature cementing additives and stimulation acid inhibitors with significantly improved safety characteristics. This process of continuously improving the existing product range and introducing new technologies demanded by the market is fundamental to our continued success.


Our strategy is to commit additional resources to increase our manufacturing and technical capability in the region, with new facilities anticipated in the next 12 months. We will also continue to recruit personnel; although we are only a small team in Dubai, we receive a range of business and technical support from our UK headquarters. Our ability to communicate in five languages, including Arabic, is a tremendous asset.


Across the region we can identify significant opportunities for growth. The drop in the oil price has not resulted in any significant fall-off in activity in this region; Saudi Arabia remains a buoyant market for us, and this is supported by growth in Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. Our objective is to deliver growth by diversifying into areas where we can bring differentiating technical solutions. 


An example of this is the relatively recent introduction of our range of EVO-Pigs and Gels to the Middle East market. These products have been designed to perform a variety of functions including pigging of pipelines which may have internal obstructions, or which may lack a launcher or receiver. They thereby form a critical part of the asset integrity plan to mitigate corrosion and help to extend the lifetime of pipelines which would otherwise be difficult to clean with conventional technology.


These are very exciting times for Aubin, particularly in the Middle East, which has always welcomed the introduction of our technology. This market has represented a significant part of Aubin’s business for many years, currently accounting for 45 per cent of the group’s sales. We look forward to continuing to invest and increase our commitment to our customers in the region.


What chemical solutions are in demand in the Middle East and where do you see strong growth potential?


The reduced oil price environment has directly influenced customers’ product demand requirements. Opportunities to introduce new technology which improves overall cost efficiency are gaining momentum, although sadly this is not the case with all operators. Our industry can be notoriously conservative, but in higher cost plays such as deep water, HPHT and unconventional resources, which are all present in the region, we are sensing an increased interest and willingness to embrace new solutions. This opens doors for a relatively small company such as ours; we are being received at a high level and receiving a welcome response.


Chemical EOR incorporates a wide variety of approaches including polymer floods, water shut-offs and microbial injection.


Increasing these treatments’ overall efficiency either by improving sweep efficiency or the operational temperature at which these treatments can be applied is a current focus for improvement. Aubin has recently joined an industry task group to review microbial EOR and identify factors which would enable this technique to deliver increased value. 


Aubin has a strong commitment to R&D; are there any particular areas you are currently focusing on?


Aubin has a very diverse product portfolio and hold patents in a wide variety of areas and applications. We encourage our talented team of chemists to routinely make time to develop new ideas and explore where our technology could be applied, and we like to create a stimulating environment where these new ideas are welcomed and explored. This is vital to ensure our continued development through innovation.


Improving the environmental compliance of chemicals has been a main R&D driver for several years and this is reflected in our range of new products.


Our OSB-01 demulsifier is CEFAS rated for application in the North Sea and has been developed to completely resolve the stubborn remaining emulsions that normally cannot be broken offshore and are returned onshore for secondary treatment. Total resolution of the mud slops enables the recovery of the hydrocarbons, disposal of water and saves cost of shipping and secondary treatment.


In the next few months we are field trialling a range of foamer chemicals designed to lift water and water/hydrocarbon fluids in liquid loaded wells.  Reducing the hydrostatic head to encourage flow in these wells optimises production and extends well lifetime.


Our most recent EVO-Pig has been developed to withstand temperatures in excess of 95oC – and is therefore suitable for the Middle East – whilst still retaining its complete functionality to negotiate restrictions down to 50 per cent of its initial diameter and ability to return to its original size. The initial field trial is planned for the third quarter of this year.