x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Full speed ahead for Aramco

Oil giant pushes on with joint venture despite tight margins .

Competition for "tight" natural gas resources between Saudi Arabia's electricity needs and petrochemicals production will not slow Saudi Aramco's plans to expand chemical output, says a top company official.

An ambitious joint venture between the world's largest national oil company and the US-based Dow Chemicals in Al Jubail would require immense amounts of ethane and naphtha to produce the 1.8 million tonnes of ethylene originally planned per year.

The project, the ultimate cost of which has been variously reported to be between US$17 billion (Dh62.44bn) and $25bn, will use a mix of feedstocks from Aramco's refineries and ethane from Aramco's Wasit gas plant, scheduled to go online in 2013.

"Ethane levels would be, I would say, tight," said Abdulaziz al Judaimi, the vice president of a chemicals unit the company created in October.

"We will continue to invest in gas in terms of drilling and exploration."

The Dow-Aramco joint venture announced in 2006 was originally planned for Ras Tanura, where the production sites would have had easy access to feedstock at the world's largest offshore oil facility.

But the venture was delayed because of the tight financial market, and in August the company announced it had changed the site to Al Jubail, which has more existing infrastructure.

Some ethane will still be sourced from Ras Tanura, which already has a gas pipeline leading to Al Jubail.

Mr al Judaimi said Aramco would complete its engineering study by the middle of next year.

Mr al Judaimi, who was hired to oversee Aramco's chemicals output from a previous post as vice president of new business development at the company, said Aramco was still considering emerging markets.

"We're always evaluating investment opportunities outside of China and India and the US," he said, adding that some of those proposals had come from Indonesia and Vietnam.

"Our position on crude and hydrocarbon resources would always put us in a position to do business."