Why Saudi Arabia Is Looking for Oil and Gas in the U.S.

December 20, 2017, 5:52 PM UTC

As Saudi Arabia prepares to sell a piece of its government-owned oil company Aramco to investors next year, the country is sniffing around for new energy assets. And it has its eye on the oil and gas production in the United States.

The kingdom, which has tentatively planned an IPO in 2018 for Aramco, is reportedly focusing on American shale country, according to the WSJ, which cited several unnamed sources. The IPO itself is momentous. Taking Aramco public would end 38 years of complete state control of the largest oil producer in the world.

The implications of an IPO, which is expected to beat out Apple and Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable company, will likely have far-reaching effects. And not just on the markets and Saudi Arabia.

It would likely reshape Aramco into a more diversified company with oil-and-gas production assets outside of Saudi Arabia.

And that’s where American shale country comes in. According to the WSJ, Aramco has had early talks with Tellurian, the Houston-based liquefied natural gas developer, about taking a stake in the company or buying some of its fuel. The state-owned oil producer has also looked into buying assets in the Permian and Eagle Ford oil and gas basins. Other U.S. companies have been approached about natural gas export deals, reported the WSJ.

These talks, as tentative and early as they might be, illustrates a dramatic shift for Aramco. It also points to how the booming shale-oil industry in the U.S. has weakened Aramco’s position.

To be clear, Aramco does own U.S. assets already. But these are refineries. Aramco only produces oil and gas within Saudi Arabia. And it doesn’t currently import oil or gas.

Snapping up even a piece of a U.S. gas producer could help the company, and country, make better use of oil produced at home. Here’s how: Saudi Arabia is sitting on proven oil reserves that are 13 times as large as the reserves booked by Exxon Mobil, which is the largest independent oil company in the world. It’s also sitting on 298 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

However, the country uses some of its oil reserves to produce electricity. If it can use more natural gas to produce electricity, Aramco can save its more valuable crude oil for export.