Abu Dhabi: Dalma Energy, a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi listed Aabar Petroleum, yesterday announced it is investing $80 million to purchase four new drilling rigs. The company currently operates 18 rigs.

The purchase caps a $250 million fleet expansion plan which Dalma Energy had undertaken in October 2004.

Dalma Energy has also recently opened its offices in Libya as it seeks to expand its operations in the region.

"The four new land rigs for Dalma have been built in China. One of them is en route to Saudi Arabia for commissioning on a contract with Saudi Aramco. The three remaining rigs will be delivered by the first quarter of 2007," said Khaled Ahmad Salem Al Ameri, director of Dalma Energy.

"We have achieved a rig utilisation of 100per cent and doubled the size of our operations in less than 18 months since our acquisition by Aabar last year," he said on the sidelines of the ongoing Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference.

"This aggressive growth will continue. We are committed to supporting oil companies in the region as they seek to increase production in line with global demand," added Al Ameri.

Of the 18 rigs owned and operated by Dalma Energy currently, seven are in Saudi Arabia, eight in Oman, two in India and one in Qatar.

According to the 2006 ReedHycalog Rig Census survey, the global utilisation of land rigs such as those operated by Dalma Energy has gone up to 95 per cent this year compared with 83 per cent in 2005.

The survey notes that "record oil and gas prices have spurred rig owners to mobilise additional units. Not only has the market upswing encouraged contractors to reactivate or refurbish their inventory of older units, rig building programs have also been established and are now coming to fruition."

Dalma's operations encompass the MENA region and the subcontinent region. Dalma was acquired by Aabar in July 2005 for Dh367 million.