UAE National Day: A life in oil, in service of the nation

Hassan Al Suwaidi recalls an era after the discovery of oil, and how he and his peers worked tirelessly to tap into this valuable resource



by

Rasha Abu Baker

Published: Thu 1 Dec 2022, 5:18 PM

Last updated: Sat 3 Dec 2022, 6:13 PM

Hassan Al Suwaidi has so much to be proud of. He was a member of a small contingent who helped establish fundamental foundations for onshore oil extraction in the UAE. A country, which only 51 years ago was a cluster of little known desert states, just finding its way in the world of oil.

The founding of the nation and the early days of oil advancement was an exciting time for Al Suwaidi, which he saw firsthand. It was just the beginning of an epic journey into expeditious progress to what it is today – a thriving oasis that emanated from the dust, defying all odds and expectations.

As he sits with Khaleej Times at his home in Abu Dhabi, in a treehouse Majlis that he proudly declares was entirely made of recycled materials, Al Suwaidi recalls his memories of bygone days in the UAE, the era after oil discovery in the 50’s, and how he and his peers worked tirelessly to tap into this valuable resource and lifeblood of industrialised nations at the time.

Hard work and inspiration

In his various roles, Al Suwaidi taught and trained hundreds of Emiratis through the decades in his work with the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations (ADCO), renamed ADNOC Onshore in 2017.

The 68 year old, who retired in 2016, was never absent or taken an extra day off in his 40 years of service as he worked tirelessly in the booming oil sector, travelling to hard-to-reach onshore sites around the country.

“I never missed a day. I never took compassionate leave, even when those closest to me passed away."

“We've been trained to be efficient, and time and discipline was very important for us.”

He took on diverse roles in ADCO, including management positions in field operations, maintenance, technology, water injections, and lastly headed the learning and training programme where he trained young employees, including those who would go on to become ministers and other highly appointed positions.

“I loved it,” he says of his job back then, “not just enjoyed, I truly loved it.”

He worked on fields in Abu Dhabi, including Jebel Dhanna, Habshan, Bu Hasa, Asab, Shah, and even oil field terminals in Fujairah.

“What I’m most proud of is that I trained UAE locals to take over. If you go to the fields now, you can see how many Emiratis are there. That’s an achievement for me. I’m really proud of every single one of them, every single one working in the desert.”

Al Suwaidi is still in touch with many of students, sending them motivational messages in chat groups and offering free training on several subjects, including a course he named the ‘10 Commandments of Oil and Gas’ from his home. “I retired, yes, but I did not leave them. I send them a message of motivation every morning.”

This sort of work ethic serves as an example and provides a glimpse of the hard work the previous generations of Emiratis have put in for those before them, inspired by the country’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

“Sheikh Zayed had a vision, and we followed that vision. He inspired us. I used to play the recordings of his inspirational words every day.”

“We did not mind, even if we worked for the rest of our life there. We just wanted to do something and show that we can do it ourselves. We were determined to do it ourselves, and we did. We worked very hard. We did not concentrate on anything else, but the oil wells.”

Desert access challenges

Al Suwaidi, was also known as the ‘King of Shah’, a reference to the Shah Oil Field at the edge of the Empty Quarter where he was based and received over the years many international dignitaries, including the then Prince Charles.

“I used to take guests and show them the desert. We would sometimes show them the oil wells and explain about our operations. We entertained Prince Charles, now King Charles, and I gave him some camel milk to try.”

“Back then we didn't have roads. There was nothing, nothing at all. We had to go and open roads through huge sand dunes,” he recalls.

“And sometimes we couldn't get through, so we had to go around them. And this took time, and of course time is money in the drilling and oil sector.”

Some sites, like Shah Oil Field, were too dangerous to access by road, and workers and visitors had to use air transport. “We used planes and helicopters. We had to build airports in the middle of the desert because it was too dangerous to go by car,” he explains.

Today, Al Suwaidi notes, there are tarmac roads that lead to oil fields and with the advancement of machines, the process of oil extraction has become much less challenging.

His work also included evaluating the reservoir of wells in Shah, as they started producing 5,000 barrels a day. It was a slow process compared to today. “Drilling wells nowadays takes around 14-20 days. Back then, we used take 45 days and even up to four months.”

Looking to the future, oil is of the past

The UAE has no doubt been blessed by its magnificent oil wealth and hardworking of its people which helped it build and develop at a rapid pace, “What we did in 51 years, it took other countries centuries,” Al Suwaidi notes.

But the UAE has made significant efforts towards scaling back its reliance on oil, as it works towards finding more sustainable alternatives. The vision today is to move away from an oil-dependent economy. As The UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said a few years ago, “In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil, the question is: when it is shipped abroad, will we be sad?

“If we are investing today in the right sectors, I can tell you we will celebrate at that moment.”

Al Suwaidi agrees, “Oil isn’t significant for the UAE’s future. The country wants to diversify its economy and strengthen its alternative energy sources. We are now well advanced in renewable energy as well as in clean energy. Oil is something of the past.”

“We put a lot of effort in teaching and educating our children, so we are in good hands with them. They are picking up where we left off and taking control of the future. This will ensure continuity, as energy resources enter a new era.”

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