UAE's new oil minister brings youthful zeal together with worldly view
Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, the newly named UAE oil minister, will be the youngest among his Opec colleagues - junior by a dozen years to his Qatari colleague and by half a century to his Saudi counterpart.
His youth is just one of the elements that make him an unusual choice for energy ministers in the UAE's short history - a choice that symbolises the new direction Abu Dhabi wants to take in fuelling growth.
In 1973, shortly after the UAE's unification, the post was given to Mana Al Otaiba, who was a prized asset in his young nation as one of a small group of university graduates. A Baghdad University scholar, he ushered in a breath of transparency to a secretive industry when he published all the oil contracts signed in the UAE through the early 1980s.
The outgoing minister, Mohammed Al Hamli, came from a lifelong career at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), taking on increasing responsibility from finances for the emirate's main money-maker to management of offshore fields, and as a respected elder, he served on several boards including the powerful Supreme Petroleum Council. Always a welcome sight for oil reporters, he delivered his slow, measured comments from behind a neatly trimmed moustache. Mr Al Mazrouei, by contrast, began his career at Adnoc but, like the smartest among today's generation of Emiratis, gained international experience through secondments with Royal Dutch Shell in the North Sea, Nigeria and Brunei.
The 39-year-old will be the only Arab Opec minister to have experience at a foreign company, and the locations where he worked are notable for the lessons they can offer the UAE in how to milk the most out of ageing fields and maintain gas production. He moved on to head new business development as the deputy chief executive of Mubadala Petroleum, where Maurizio La Noce, the chief executive, praised him for "his intellectual capabilities, his vision and foresight and his diplomatic skills".
His work in bringing on new projects in gas exploration in East Africa and a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Fujairah will be key components of his remit as minister, along with domestic solar powered plants and an ambitious new nuclear programme that is the first to be launched by any country since Chernobyl. The multibillion dollar investments are part of a new strategy for meeting the UAE's power needs: not by building power plants to burn gas produced inside the country, but to import fuel, whether LNG or uranium rods.
"They're used to the [independent power plants] being successful, but now the issue is increasing capacity through fuel imports and how is that done," said Christopher Gunson, an oil and gas lawyer at Pillsbury, the American firm. "Thinking about a new energy minister who comes from an IOC [international oil company] background who knows more about the global markets, that makes sense to me."
Sultan Al Mehairi, the director of marketing and refining at Adnoc who serves in the Opec delegation, hoped Mr Al Mazrouei could bring "some dynamic ideas."
"Of course we're going to miss Hamli, but change is part of our life, and change does not mean a negative thing - it can bring positive things," said Mr Al Mehairi. "I think he understands the business and he's capable to lead in the future."
Updated: March 14, 2013 04:00 AM