Search for oil

Saudi official says Middle East will remain key to world energy supply

As the United States and other oil-dependent nations seek to tap oil from other areas besides the Middle East, including the Caspian Sea, and search for alternative sources of energy, an oil official from Saudi Arabia, the world's largest producer of oil, issued a diplomatic but pointed reminder that the Middle East would remain a key supplier in the foreseeable future.

Speaking at a conference on "Energy Beyond the Middle East" March 28 at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, Jamil Al-Dandany, director of public affairs for Aramco Services Co., a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Saudi Aramco), the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, cautioned against a "go-it-alone" policy by the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

a car driving along the Saudi Arabian pipeline

A main oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia © Wayne Eastep/Stone

Al-Dandany has spent 10 years with Saudi Aramco in various capacities, including a government staff advisor in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Prior to that, he was assistant professor of international relations at King Abdulaziz Military Academy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He holds a Ph.D. (1990) and a master of arts in law and diplomacy (1987) from Fletcher and a master's degree in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.

Against the backdrop of the war against Iraq, Al-Dandany noted that "energy is the key driver" of our modern civilization and said he understands the need for the United States to have a steady energy supply. "Here in the United States, the assurance of a steady energy supply is especially critical," he said. "We've heard the calls for greater self-sufficiency and less dependence on foreign oil—notably oil from the Middle East—after the terrible events of 9/11. And the current situation there only raises more concerns about oil supply vulnerability.

"But I would like to caution that the implications of any future policy that excludes a thorough and deeply studied debate on globalization and interdependence can lead to a one-way dead end. By that I mean none of us is able to go it alone, because globalization—with America at the lead—goes far beyond just oil and energy."

Noting that the Middle East contains two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves, Al-Dandany said, "This region can produce oil more economically than anywhere else in the world. Consistent with its own practice, then, this would suggest that the United States and indeed the entire world's economy will be better off with oil originating in the Middle East."

Noting that his country has "voluntarily" taken steps to avoid swings in oil market prices—during the Gulf War in 1991, for example—Al-Dandany said his kingdom keeps some three million barrels per day out of its 10.5 million barrels per day potential "ready and available" for any global crisis.

He stressed the "stabilizing influence of OPEC" and compared it to the U.S. Federal Reserve, which acts as a central bank in the management of this country's domestic money supply.

The Saudi official ended his speech on a reassuring note, saying his country welcomed "additional players" on the energy horizon. He also said his country is committed to "political reconciliation" in the Middle East.

"Peaceful and prosperous societies value an environment free from tension, volatility and uncertainty," he said. "By contrast, societies wrought by strife and conflict do little to contribute to world progress and rather do more to drag down the pursuit of peace the world so desperately needs."

The conference was organized by Fletcher's International Business Relations Program, the Southwest and Central Asia Program, the International Environment and Resource Policy Program and the Global Business Club.