Sole survivor? Saudi Arabia doubles down on oil to outlast rivals

DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – The hunch in demand for crude throughout the coronavirus pandemic has pressured oil corporations to ponder the likelihood that the fossil gasoline market has peaked and the time for a world power transition has come.

FILE PHOTO: General view of Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Saudi Arabia May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo

But Saudi Aramco plans to increase its manufacturing capability so it might pump as a lot of the dominion’s huge oil reserves when demand picks up – earlier than a shift to cleaner power makes crude all however nugatory, trade sources and analysts instructed Reuters.

With virtually 20% of the world’s confirmed reserves and manufacturing prices of simply $four a barrel, Aramco believes it might undercut rivals and carry on making money even when decrease oil costs make it unprofitable for rivals, the sources stated.

Riyadh now plans to observe by way of on its obvious menace in March throughout an oil worth struggle with Russia to increase its capability to 13 million barrels a day (bpd) from 12 million bpd, officers and sources have stated.

Aramco’s method is in stark distinction to Western rivals equivalent to BP BP.L and Shell RDSa.L which plan to curb spending on oil manufacturing to allow them to spend money on renewable and inexperienced power as they put together for a low-carbon world.

With a renewed focus on oil, the state-run oil big can also be revising bold downstream growth plans and now goals to seize belongings in established tasks in key markets equivalent to India and China, quite than constructing costly mega vegetation from scratch, the sources stated.

“We anticipate oil demand development to proceed in the long run, pushed by rising populations and financial development. Fuels and petrochemicals will help demand development … hypothesis about an imminent peak in oil demand is solely not in line with the realities of oil consumption,” Aramco stated in a press release to Reuters.


The risk that demand for crude has peaked makes it extra urgent for the world’s prime oil exporter to exploit its reserves whereas it might to generate money to fund Saudi Arabia’s financial reforms, sources acquainted with Saudi policymaking say.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making an attempt to develop new industries to cut back the dominion’s dependency on oil underneath his bold Vision 2030 plan to diversify the financial system.

But for the plan to succeed, Prince Mohammed wants masses of cash – and Aramco’s oil gross sales are his most important income.

“The crown prince stated he’ll diversify however he didn’t say he’ll kill the oil trade. As lengthy as it might make extra money why not? Take the money and make investments it some other place,” one of many sources instructed Reuters.

“Let’s agree that given the worldwide financial scenario, full diversification gained’t occur by 2030,” he stated. “To utterly wean a large financial system like Saudi off oil, it would require no less than 50 years extra. So so long as oil is with us, make extra money out of it in the event you can.”

Aramco can also be centered on how to pump extra, cleaner gasoline whereas reducing greenhouse gasoline emissions to give it a greater likelihood to compete as governments tighten carbon rules, analysts and sources briefed on the corporate’s plans stated.

Aramco’s oil manufacturing already has a so-called carbon depth of 10.1 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every barrel produced (CO2e/boe) – the bottom amongst its rivals – and it desires to push that down even additional by the tip of this yr.

“Our priorities are to maintain our low carbon depth and low value of manufacturing, whereas delivering the power provides the world wants,” Aramco instructed Reuters.

“(Aramco) is researching ways to cut back emissions by way of know-how, equivalent to making engines extra environment friendly, higher gasoline formulations, carbon seize and sequestration, and turning CO2 and hydrocarbons into helpful merchandise,” the corporate stated.

Aramco will proceed to develop its gasoline assets due to each rising home wants and the Kingdom’s ambitions to grow to be a gasoline exporter, the sources stated.


Aramco’s plan to increase its capability to 13 million barrels a day is central to its technique because it desires to be prepared to seize a much bigger market share when demand recovers, sources briefed on Saudi Arabia’s oil pondering stated.

Saudi Arabia, additionally wants to be prepared for the uncertainty in oil costs anticipated put up COVID-19 to guarantee it might maintain spending plans and financial reforms largely unaffected with crude priced at $40 a barrel, or $60, sources and analysts stated.

The pondering inside Saudi Arabia is that as oil costs are anticipated to keep depressed – and will hover round $50-$60 for a number of years – shutdowns in locations such because the United States, the place shale oil is expensive to produce, ought to help costs.

“Saudi Arabia, being the bottom value producer, might see a rise in volumes and market share within the years to come even when international oil demand and costs don’t recuperate as an absence of funding naturally leads to manufacturing declines elsewhere,” stated Krisjanis Krustins, a director within the Middle East and Africa staff at Fitch Ratings.

The passing of peak oil demand may lead to a brand new worth struggle and an finish to efforts by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting nations (OPEC) and its allies to curb provide – so Riyadh desires to be armed and prepared for battle, sources stated.

All oil producers will face an identical want to monetise their reserves and power belongings earlier than they lose worth. Besides Saudi Arabia, the economies of OPEC members equivalent to Russia, Venezuela, Iraq and Iran all rely closely on oil and gasoline.

“There is all the time going to be area for oil and the bottom carbon emitter will win,” stated Amrita Sen, co-founder of the think-tank, Energy Aspects. “OPEC market energy will return, particularly for many who can produce oil within the cleanest approach potential, and Saudi Aramco matches that invoice.”


Another central a part of Aramco’s technique is a evaluate by the company improvement organisation the corporate arrange in August of its pricey acquisition plans for downstream belongings.

Aramco has made massive bets on petrochemicals and oil refining as a approach to mitigate towards a slowdown in oil demand development.

But in an trade which may be on the cusp of a long-term decline, Aramco is now trying to purchase belongings buyers need to offload, quite than constructing them from scratch, sources stated.

For instance, Aramco has deferred plans to construct a $10 billion refining and petrochemicals complicated with Chinese defence conglomerate Norinco 000065.SZ in China, the sources instructed Reuters, confirming earlier experiences.

The Saudi firm is, nevertheless, keen on investing in one other venture in China, the place it will purchase a stake within the Zhejiang refinery and petrochemicals complicated south of Shanghai and get its palms on an oil storage facility, the sources stated.

Officials at Zhejiang Petroleum & Chemical Co Ltd couldn’t instantly be reached for remark.

Aramco can also be eager to spend money on India and is in talks with Reliance Industries RELI.NS to purchase a 20% stake in its oil-to-chemical enterprise though negotiations have been dragging the sale worth.

Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Aizhu Chen in Singapore; Editing by David Clarke

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