Saudi Aramco in talks for stake in world’s no. 4 chemical firm

General view of Aramco tanks and oil pipe at Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura oil refinery and oil terminal in Saudi Arabia. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File)
Updated 19 July 2018
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Saudi Aramco in talks for stake in world’s no. 4 chemical firm

  • Aramco made the invitation for the SABIC deal to the banks last month
  • The oil giant is expanding its footprint globally by signing downstream deals and boosting the capacity of its plants

DUBAI: Saudi Aramco said on Thursday it is looking to buy a stake in Saudi petrochemical maker SABIC, a move that could boost the state oil giant’s market valuation ahead of a planned initial public offering.
Aramco said in a statement that it was in “very early-stage discussions” with the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund to acquire the stake in SABIC via a private transaction. It has no plans to acquire any publicly held shares, it said.
In a separate statement, the PIF also said that talks about a sale were in early stages. “There is a possibility that no agreement will be reached in relation to this potential transaction,” it said.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Saudi Aramco had invited banks to pitch for an advisory role on the potential acquisition of a strategic stake in Saudi Basic Industries Corp, citing two sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
Aramco wants to develop its downstream business as the government prepares to sell up to 5 percent of the world’s largest oil producer, possibly by next year. Boosting its petrochemicals portfolio further could help attract investors for the IPO.
Riyadh-listed SABIC, the world’s fourth-biggest petrochemicals company, is 70 percent owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s top sovereign wealth fund. It has a market capitalization of 385.2 billion Saudi riyals ($102.7 billion).
The Aramco IPO is the centerpiece of an ambitious plan championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy beyond oil.
Aramco made the invitation for the SABIC deal to the banks last month, said the sources, declining to be identified due to commercial sensitivities.
Aramco plans to boost investments in refining and petrochemicals to secure new markets for its crude, and sees growth in chemicals as central to its downstream strategy to lessen the risk of a slowdown in oil demand.
The oil giant is expanding its footprint globally by signing downstream deals and boosting the capacity of its plants.
Aramco’s push into chemicals also includes a mega project it is building at home with SABIC. The $20 billion project would build a complex that converts crude oil into chemicals directly, bypassing the refining stage.


US says conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative

Updated 19 August 2018
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US says conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative

  • Fears of oil scarcity no longer driver of US energy policy
  • Surging shale production brings energy abundance

WASHINGTON: Conserving oil is no longer an economic imperative for the US, the Trump administration declares in a major new policy statement that threatens to undermine decades of government campaigns for gas-thrifty cars and other conservation programs.
The position was outlined in a memo released last month in support of the administration’s proposal to relax fuel mileage standards. The government released the memo online this month without fanfare.
Growth of natural gas and other alternatives to petroleum has reduced the need for imported oil, which “in turn affects the need of the nation to conserve energy,” the Energy Department said. It also cites the now decade-old fracking revolution that has unlocked US shale oil reserves, giving “the United States more flexibility than in the past to use our oil resources with less concern.”
With the memo, the administration is formally challenging old justifications for conservation — even congressionally prescribed ones, as with the mileage standards. The memo made no mention of climate change. Transportation is the single largest source of climate-changing emissions.
President Donald Trump has questioned the existence of climate change, embraced the notion of “energy dominance” as a national goal, and called for easing what he calls burdensome regulation of oil, gas and coal, including repealing the Obama Clean Power Plan.
Despite the increased oil supplies, the administration continues to believe in the need to “use energy wisely,” the Energy Department said, without elaboration. Department spokesmen did not respond Friday to questions about that statement.
Reaction was quick.
“It’s like saying, ‘I’m a big old fat guy, and food prices have dropped — it’s time to start eating again,’” said Tom Kloza, longtime oil analyst with the Maryland-based Oil Price Information Service.
“If you look at it from the other end, if you do believe that fossil fuels do some sort of damage to the atmosphere ... you come up with a different viewpoint,” Kloza said. “There’s a downside to living large.”
Climate change is a “clear and present and increasing danger,” said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund.
In a big way, the Energy Department statement just acknowledges the world’s vastly changed reality when it comes to oil.
Just 10 years ago, in summer 2008, oil prices were peaking at $147 a barrel and pummeling the global economy. OPEC was enjoying a massive transfer of wealth, from countries dependent on imported oil. Prices now are about $65.
Today, the US is vying with Russia for the title of top world oil producer. US oil production hit an all-time high this summer, aided by the technological leaps of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
How much the US economy is hooked up to the gas pump, and vice versa, plays into any number of policy considerations, not just economic or environmental ones, but military and geopolitical ones, said John Graham, a former official in the George W. Bush administration, now dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.
“Our ability to play that role as a leader in the world is stronger when we are the strongest producer of oil and gas,” Graham said. “But there are still reasons to want to reduce the amount we consume.”
Current administration proposals include one that would freeze mileage standards for cars and light trucks after 2020, instead of continuing to make them tougher.
The proposal eventually would increase US oil consumption by 500,000 barrels a day, the administration says. While Trump officials say the freeze would improve highway safety, documents released this month showed senior Environmental Protection Agency staffers calculate the administration’s move would actually increase highway deaths.
“American businesses, consumers and our environment are all the losers under his plan,” said Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat. “The only clear winner is the oil industry. It’s not hard to see whose side President Trump is on.”
Administration support has been tepid to null on some other long-running government programs for alternatives to gas-powered cars.
Bill Wehrum, assistant administration of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, spoke dismissively of electric cars — a young industry supported financially by the federal government and many states — this month in a call with reporters announcing the mileage freeze proposal.
“People just don’t want to buy them,” the EPA official said.
Oil and gas interests are campaigning for changes in government conservation efforts on mileage standards, biofuels and electric cars.
In June, for instance, the American Petroleum Institute and other industries wrote eight governors, promoting the dominance of the internal-combustion engine and questioning their states’ incentives to consumers for electric cars.
Surging US and gas production has brought on “energy security and abundance,” Frank Macchiarola, a group director of the American Petroleum Institute trade association, told reporters this week, in a telephone call dedicated to urging scrapping or overhauling of one US program for biofuels.
Fears of oil scarcity used to be a driver of US energy policy, Macchiarola said.
Thanks partly to increased production, “that pillar has really been rendered essentially moot,” he said.