Sources close to the project say all legal issues related to the scheme have been concluded, with final approval of the terms and conditions being awaited from the Supreme Petroleum Council, the body in charge of developing and co-ordinating policies and overseeing all issues related to hydrocarbons in the kingdom.

The companies expect that in January exploration will begin in the 200,000-square-kilometre area in the southeast of the kingdom, which was originally assigned to core venture 3 of the Saudi gas initiative. Under the terms of the agreement, Shell will assume the role of operator on the exploration, production and development and take a 40 per cent stake in the venture, with the remaining 60 per cent evenly split between Total and Aramco.

The deal will allow international oil companies (IOCs) for the first time since the creation of Aramco to become involved in the upstream development of the kingdom’s hydrocarbons reserves (MEED 27:6:03, Cover Story).