A Saudi Aramco logo sits on display during the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (ADIPEC) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photographer: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg)

Saudi Aramco In Talks With RIL For Joint Investment In Petchem, Refinery Projects

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil exporter, said today it is in talks with Reliance Industries Ltd. and other Indian companies for investing in petrochemicals and refinery projects in the country.

The Saudi national oil company, which along with its partner U.A.E.'s Adnoc has taken a 50 percent stake in a planned $44-billion mega refinery-cum-petrochemical complex in Maharashtra by state-owned oil companies, has bullish outlook on India's energy demand and is keen on investing here.

Saudi Aramco Chief Executive Officer Amin Al-Nasser said he remains positive on the firm's investment in India, and is working with partners. Indian partners, he said, are "assuring us that things are going very well."

He was replying to a reporter's question on the sidelines of Saudi-India Forum about the fate of the 60 million tonnes-a-year refinery project after ruling BJP and Shiv Sena agreed to shift the project from Ratnagiri district.

"I think if there is any delay, we can catch up. All we hear lately is that things are progressing well and we should be optimistic about it going forward," he said when asked if search for an alternate site may delay the project beyond agreed deadline of 2025.

He said Saudi Aramco continues to stay invested in the project, agreements for which were signed last year.

Saudi Aramco, he said, is also in discussions with other companies about investing in India. "We are not limited to that investment (Ratnagiri refinery), which is the mega refinery...we are looking at other opportunities," he said.

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India is an investment priority for Saudi Aramco, he said. "There is a lot of growth potential. We are looking at additional investments in India. We are in discussions with other companies as well, including Reliance Industries."

He said Saudi Arabia is "very happy with demand" in India. "It shows growth in India. 8,00,000 barrels are exported by Saudi Aramco to India. We are very happy with the demand growth we are seeing from India," he said.

The discussions with Reliance Industries first came to light in December when Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih visited Mukesh Ambani.

Al-Falih, who has known Ambani for over a decade now, travelled to Udaipur that month to attend the pre-wedding festivities of Ambani's daughter Isha's marriage with Ajay Piramal's son Anand.

During that visit, he also held talks with Ambani and he later tweeted: "we discussed opportunities for joint investments and cooperation in petrochemical, refining and communications projects."

Last month Saudi Aramco CEO met Ambani, possibly as a follow-up of that meeting.

Reliance operates two refineries at Jamnagar with a total capacity of 68.2 million tonnes per annum.

Reliance plans to expand its only-for-exports special economic zone refining capacity to just over 41 million tonnes from current 35.2 million tonnes, but does not have any plans to set up a new refinery in the country.

It is presently focused on expanding petrochemical and telecom business, industry sources said.

Crude oil is the basic raw material for the manufacturing of petrochemicals.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is keen to get a foothold in the world's fastest-growing fuel market to get a captive customer for the crude oil it produces.

Saudi Aramco is also keen on retailing fuel in India. A refinery in India can also be a base for it to export fuel to deficit countries in Europe and the Americas.

India has a refining capacity of 247.6 million tonnes, which exceeded the demand of 206.2 million tonnes.