Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Oil Policy and the Evolution of the Energy Sector

Structural reforms outlined in Vision 2030 are much needed to shift the economy to a more sustainable path and even if only a small part of Vision 2030 is being implemented, the Saudi economy will look very different in 2030 than it does now. The key question is whether these changes will have a substantial impact on oil policy and the evolution of the energy sector. In this comment, we argue that while the recent announcements and organisational changes are substantial, and the overall objectives of Vision 2030 are very ambitious, the impact on oil policy and the energy sector is likely to be more subtle than current expectations.  Despite expectations of a diminished role, the Saudi energy sector (and particularly the oil and gas sector) remains key to a smooth transition to the vibrant economy envisioned and will continue to play a vital role in the country’s future. Furthermore, the overall direction of Saudi oil policy in terms of its production and investment policy, maintaining spare capacity, integrating down the value chain through investing in refining and petrochemicals, increasing the role of gas in the energy mix, introducing efficiency measures and deploying renewables in the power mix to free crude oil for exports are not likely to change in the next few years as has been confirmed by the National Transformation Programme. In fact, one could argue that the Saudi energy sector would benefit from a more integrated energy policy that takes a holistic view about the energy challenges facing the kingdom. But the Saudi energy sector will not be immune from the changes in other parts of the economy as the recent restructuring of the energy ministry, the recent increase in energy price, the emphasis on local content policies, and plans for a partial public listing of Saudi Aramco have shown. The restructuring and reorganisation of such a vital sector and the acceleration of some policies may bring benefits and achieve efficiency gains, but they will also generate uncertainties and risks, which need to be carefully assessed and managed so policymakers don’t end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

By: Bassam Fattouh

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