Gas production now stands at 6,700 million cf/d, the highest in the region according to Aramco, but new production capacity is already coming on stream, with additions of 2,000 million cf/d over the past three years. The Hawiyah plant came on stream at the end of 2001, with 1,400 million cf/d, while the Haradh gas plant is due to come on stream at the end of 2003, with production capacity of 1,500 million cf/d.

A significant amount of new capacity was expected to come on stream through the three gas initiative core ventures in the 2006-07 time frame. However, with negotiations looking increasingly troubled, other options may now be considered for power and petrochemical feedstock.

Nearly all Aramco gas is now used for domestic infrastructure projects through its master gas system, and Aramco says that the new capacity is unlikely to be used for export. Increasing domestic gas use, by switching from oil-fired power stations, allows extra oil to be exported.

Aramco already exports large quantities of some gas products. In 2000, it exported some 238 million barrels of natural gas liquids (NGL) as well as 700,000 barrels a day of refined products, including liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest gas reserves in the world, behind Russia, Qatar and Iran. Extensive exploration campaigns have pushed up the level of proven reserves by 30 trillion cubic feet over the past five years. The kingdom is also one of the top five gas producers in the world, with the bulk of production coming from the Shedgum, Uthmaniya and Berri gas plants, now joined by Hawiyah.