Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, said it planned to use its enormous profits from last year to double down on boosting oil output capacity and move into shale drilling, which has transformed the oil industry in the United States.
The company reported a net income of $110 billion for 2021, more than double that of last year. The earnings mostly reflected higher prices as oil demand recovered from the steep falls seen in the early stages of the pandemic.
The rich earnings are allowing the company to invest to meet what the Saudi leadership believes will be a strong global need for oil and natural gas in the next few years, as well as in technologies that could reduce the overall carbon content of the fuels it sells in the future. For instance, Aramco is putting chips on low carbon hydrogen, a potential multipurpose fuel, and in storing carbon dioxide underground.
But oil and natural gas remain the key focus for capital spending, which is expected to rise from $31.9 billion in 2021 to as much as $50 billion in 2022.
The high prices for oil and gas and concerns about supplies in recent months represent something of a reaffirmation that there will be a role for Aramco for the foreseeable future. The price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, was trading at about $112 a barrel on Monday, after hitting nearly $140 a couple of weeks ago; it was trading about $70 a barrel in December.
“We recognize that energy security is paramount for billions of people around the world, which is why we continue to make progress on increasing our crude oil production capacity,” said Amin H. Nasser, Aramco’s chief executive, in a statement.
The bumper financial results came as Houthi rebels in Yemen directed missiles at Saudi energy facilities, raising concerns about oil flows. In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency, the government warned that it would not “incur any responsibility for any shortage in oil supplies” resulting from such attacks.
The huge profits mean that Aramco was able to pay a hefty dividend of $75 billion for the year. Most of the money goes to the Saudi government, which owns more than 98 percent of the company, including 4 percent that was shifted last month to the Public Investment Fund, a vehicle for government projects including those favored by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s chief policymaker. Aramco also awarded one bonus share for every 10 shares.
Aramco said it was on the way to increasing oil production capacity to 13 million barrels a day, a level which should eventually encourage higher production levels.
Aramco also said it was beginning development of a large shale gas field called Jafurah in the eastern part of the country, where there are large existing oil fields. Production of gas, which is used in generating electric power and industry, has taken a back seat to oil in the kingdom, but Mr. Nasser has pushed to increase gas output. Aramco anticipates investing as much as $100 billion in Jafurah over time, and the company said gas flows could rise by more than 50 percent before the end of the decade.
Saudi Arabia has attracted criticism for keeping oil output low, contributing to sharp prices rises over the last year. The company’s oil production was on average just 9.2 million barrels a day for 2021, as Riyadh strictly observed output quotas set by the OPEC Plus group of producing nations. Consuming nations, including the United States, have prodded the Saudis to increase production, with little success until now. The next meeting of OPEC Plus is scheduled for March 31.
If current trends in the energy industry prevail, Aramco could be even more profitable in 2022.
Neil Beveridge, an analyst at Bernstein, a research firm, estimated that Aramco could generate $140 billion in cash in 2022, assuming that current oil prices of about $110 a barrel for Brent crude, the international benchmark, continue through the year. Prices for Brent crude in 2021 were about $70 on average.
Source: NY Times