Just 50 years ago, those driving some 240 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi would have stumbled upon a sleepy fishing village called Ruwais. The same journey in 2025 will take you through the world's largest oil refinery.
It reflects the foresight of the UAE's Founding Father Sheikh Zayed, who inaugurated Ruwais's first facility in 1982, laying the groundwork for an industrial powerhouse.
This week Adnoc group chief executive Dr Sultan Al Jaber announced plans to invest Dh165 billion with partners in Abu Dhabi's downstream sector – much of it in Ruwais – thereby diversifying the output of the UAE's oil and gas industry.
Many oil-rich countries across the globe have failed to fully exploit their resources, content simply to pump and sell crude oil.
For the likes of Nigeria and Venezuela, the strategy worked until the price of oil crashed in 2014, crushing their economies. The UAE's clear desire to diversify – both within the oil sector and beyond it – will stand the country in excellent stead.
Adnoc's downstream strategy will lead Ruwais to refine 1.5 million barrels per day, up from 922,000 today, creating 15,000 new jobs. It will make the UAE a leading producer of petrochemicals, jet fuel and diesel, allowing it to quench the thirst of rapidly expanding Asian economies.
Oil executives from France, Italy, India, the US and China congregated in Abu Dhabi for the announcement, reflecting the UAE's rise as a global hub of business and expertise.
Beyond industrial production, refinery towns like Ruwais attract vast economic activity. Today, the city contains 24,000 residents and world-class centres of health, education and commerce. More than 2,500 new residential units will cater to a swelling population. It demonstrates the UAE's maturing development. In Ruwais, that will mean a fully fledged satellite city with its own booming economy.
The UAE's leaders are using the nation's oil wealth to broaden its economic base and finance innovation. Consider Masdar, a futuristic clean city financed by oil revenues.
From a dusty village to an energetic urban economic powerhouse, the journey of Ruwais embodies the spirit and foresight of the UAE.