As the Sadara Chemical Company’s $20bn petrochemicals complex begins its construction cycle, Saudi Aramco is starting to consider what its next move will be.

“Schemes such as Satorp and Sadara are proof that Aramco is taking its responsibilities seriously”

High on Aramco’s agenda seems to be the second phase of its $9.6bn Saudi Aramco Total Refining and Petrochemical Company (Satorp) project. While the first phase of the joint venture with France’s Total involves building a 400,000 barrel-a-day refinery, the second phase will be about petrochemical production.

Exactly what the product mix of a potential phase 2 at Satorp will be has not yet been disclosed. However, according to industry sources, the joint venture partners have been locked in talks with Aramco’s Sadara partner, the US’ Dow Chemical, to formulate the best mix.

Lengthening the value chain of natural resources in Saudi Arabia is far more challenging than many outside the kingdom might envisage. The first obstacle is Riyadh’s responsibility to keep the world supplied with crude oil, especially in times of crisis. Growing economies in Far East Asia are hungry for whatever hydrocarbons Saudi Arabia can provide and, until relatively recently, the kingdom has found this a mutually agreeable arrangement. But with job and wealth creation high on the government’s agenda, this is no longer the case.

Added to this are the logistical difficulties and expense of building world-scale refineries and petrochemicals plants in harsh desert conditions, as well as attracting partners with technical expertise.

Within the next 10 years, Jubail will become an even more important global hub for petrochemicals production. Aramco’s contribution promises to be vast and it is clear that partners such as Total and Dow are keen to be involved in this massive expansion of the kingdom’s industrial base. Schemes such as Satorp and Sadara are proof that Aramco is taking its responsibilities seriously.

Satorp pushes ahead with phase two refinery expansion