Saudi Arabia’s ability to influence global oil prices relies not only on its production capacity but also on its ability to quickly and efficiently export hydrocarbons products to its trading partners. From ports on the Red Sea and the Gulf, Saudi Aramco operates the world’s largest oil and gas export facilities, including the world’s biggest oil terminal at Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province, in addition to the Yanbu port on the Red Sea.
In October 2018 Saudi Aramco added an additional 3m barrels per day (bpd) of export capacity with the commissioning of the Yanbu South Terminal. The new facility on the country’s west coast has a tank farm as well as offshore facilities for the storage and loading of Arab Light and Arab Super Light crude oil. “The successful start-up of Yanbu South Terminal is another milestone in reinforcing Saudi Aramco position as the world’s leading integrated energy and chemicals producer, operating in a safe, sustainable, reliable and environmentally friendly manner,” Abdullah Al Mansour, executive head of pipelines, distribution, and terminals for Saudi Aramco, said in a statement.
Further south on the Red Sea coast, Saudi Aramco is overseeing the construction of another terminal. On a 2.4m-sq metre site, the $18bn Jazan Port is part of the Jazan Economic City mega-project that is due to begin operations in 2019. China Harbour Engineering Company was awarded the SR342m ($91.2m) contract to construct the breakwater and three wharfs at the facility that will serve the new 400,000-bpd Saudi Aramco refinery, as well as petrochemical and steel industries.
In the past, Saudi Arabia’s crude oil has met demand from Europe, the US, Japan and China, with the latter two relying heavily on imports from the world’s largest exporter. The Kingdom has been sensitive to disruptions in supply and through the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) worked to stabilise prices. In December 2018 the share of oil exports in total merchandise exports was approximately 76.9% of total exports, or SR70bn ($18.7bn). In October 2018 China imported SR14.8bn ($3.9bn) of Saudi goods – both oil and non-oil – while Japan and India imported goods worth SR11.6bn ($3.1bn) and SR10.9bn ($2.9bn), respectively. The US imported goods worth SR10.3bn ($2.7bn). In October 2018 Saudi Arabia was exporting 1.1m bpd of oil to the US, according to the US Energy Information Administration, up from 847,000 bpd in June 2018, with Saudi Arabia maintaining its position as the country’s largest source of oil imports after Canada, which exported 4.1m bpd to its southern neighbour in October 2018.
October 2018 also saw the value of Brent crude’s price peak at $85.63 before falling to $51.93 at the end of the year. In January 2019 Saudi Arabia, other OPEC members and partners including Russia reduced output by 1.2m bpd for the first six months of the year to rebalance market prices. Saudi Arabia had pledged to reduce crude oil output to 10.3m bpd in that month, down from 11m bpd in November 2018, with Khalid Al Falih, the minister of energy, industry and mineral resources, reporting output at the start of the year had been 10.2m bpd. Al Falih said exports had been reduced to 7.2m bpd in January 2019 and would fall further to 7.1m bpd in February. The announcement from Saudi Arabia came as Brent crude recorded a second week of gains, by 9%, highlighting the ability of the country’s export volumes to rebalance global prices.
The importance of the oil and gas sector is evident in export data from the Joint Organisations Data Initiative, which found oil and gas exports increased to an all-time high of 40.8m tonnes, up 37% from 2017. The value of Saudi oil exports increased by 12.7% between December 2018 and the same month in 2017, from SR62.1bn ($16.6bn) to SR70bn ($18.7bn), according to the General Authority for Statistics. Investment in additional export capacity coupled with the cuts to stabilise international market prices highlights the importance of maintaining a balance that is conducive to growth in the sector and across the wider economy.
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