Saudi Aramco is considering a bold move to open up one of the world’s largest unconventional gas fields to foreign investors, as it looks to fund a $110 billion project to help it diversify from oil sales, people familiar with the matter said.
The state-controlled producer is working with an adviser as it explores raising new equity or debt for its vast Jafurah site, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. It has started preliminary talks with potential investors including large commodity traders, according to the peope.
Deliberations are in the early stages and Aramco could decide to pursue other ways of gathering money to fund the Jafurah development, the people said. A representative for Aramco declined to comment.
Any deal involving Jafurah would mark a rare example of Aramco allowing external investors the chance to hold stakes in its upstream oil and gas assets. Previous attempts in the late 1990s to bring in Big Oil companies to help develop reserves failed. The company began a review of its upstream business earlier this year as a precursor to such a potential move, Bloomberg News reported in April.
Saudi Arabia’s gas reserves are the largest in the Arab world after Qatar, according to BP Plc. The Jafurah field is a priority for the kingdom’s rulers as they look to reduce a reliance on crude exports. The site is estimated to hold 200 trillion cubic feet of rich raw gas, and Aramco expects to begin production there in 2024, reaching about 2.2 billion standard cubic feet per day of sales by 2036.
Since Aramco was fully nationalized in 1980, most foreign investment in the kingdom’s energy industry has been restricted to downstream assets such as refineries and petrochemical plants. In the past, Aramco has struck joint ventures with firms including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and TotalEnergies SE for the exploration and drilling of natural gas within its borders.
Aramco has increasingly been opening its doors to overseas investors since going public in 2019 to help finance both its $75 billion dividend commitment and large capital expenditure requirements. It completed the sale of a stake in a unit that leases a network of oil pipelines across the country in June, raising $12.4 billion. A similar deal for its gas pipelines is in the works.
Under Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who also heads Saudi Arabia’s powerful sovereign wealth fund and is a key adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Aramco has started to evaluate ways to monetize assets. The company reshuffled senior leaders last year and created a division led by Abdulaziz Al-Gudaimi focused on “portfolio optimization” and boosting access to growth markets.