Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest crude exporter, has ambitions to become a global energy company on par with ExxonMobil or Shell as it looks to venture into international exploration and production.
"We are no longer going to be inward-looking and focused only on monetising the kingdom's resources," Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih told the Financial Times. "Going forward, the world is going to be Saudi Aramco's playground."
Aramco, which produces all of the kingdom’s crude reserves on behalf of the state, has largely restricted itself to developing those resources domestically and has not ventured overseas upstream. In recent years, the state producer acquired refining and chemical assets abroad as part of its pivot towards leveraging its downstream portfolio and locking in long-term market share for its crude.
It has been working towards its transformation as an international energy company, notably announcing its intention to list about 5 per cent of the company – a move that has been delayed following plans to acquire 70 per cent of downstream producer Sabic.
When asked if Aramco planned to become an integrated global company taking after Big Oil players such as Anglo-Dutch major Shell or ExxonMobil, scouting for oil and gas assets abroad, Mr Al Falih replied, “correct”.
Initial steps to becoming such a player would involve developing a “global gas” business, said Mr Al Falih, a resource Saudi Arabia has become heavily reliant upon as it switches its power stations from crude to the cleaner fuel.
Saudi Arabia has previously looked at energy investments in Russia, notably in liquefied natural gas. The Saudi oil minister was present for the opening of Russia's Arctic LNG project operated by Novatek and Total in 2017, alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two countries, which have led supply corrections in the oil market including the 1.2 million barrel per day curbs in place for six months from the start of the year have established a $1 billion fund to explore for energy investments together.
Aramco, which owns the largest refinery in the US, has been eyeing the North American shale gas boom and has expressed interest in exploring for gas assets in the country.
In his interview with the FT, Mr Al Falih also said Australia - which recently displaced Qatar as the world's top LNG exporter - could be a potential destination for investment.
Aramco, which has expanded its search for gas to developing the resource offshore domestically, has sufficient capabilities to extend its exploration arm abroad and compete efficiently with global firms, said Mr Al Falih.
“We can stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone and outdo them,” he said.
The kingdom’s interest in overseas exploration comes amid what Mr Al Falih called ongoing investor interest for the potential flotation of its shares in the future.
“If I have investors from New York or London or Tokyo that are investing in Saudi Aramco, they want Saudi Aramco to be competing with the world’s best international oil companies,” he told the paper.
The company has made strategic strides abroad, notably in the downstream sector where it joined hands with state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company to invest in a $44bn integrated refining and chemicals complex on the western coast of India along with a group of state-backed domestic refiners.
Adnoc and Aramco also forged a pact last November to explore joint investments in LNG and natural gas.