1997 News Story

Saudi Arabia's precious natural resources: oil and water

During the current sixth five-year development plan (1995-99) local consumption of primary energy is expected to grow at an average rate of 5.3 percent, from 1.55 mbd of crude oil in 1995 to 2 mbd in 1999.  By the year 2000, refined products are expected to account for 42.1 percent of total consumption, with direct burning of crude accounting for 14.2 percent, natural gas 30.7 percent and liquid gas 13 percent.  Moreover, the production capacity of basic lubricating oils is expected to increase to 3.8 mbd in 1999, from 1.8 mbd in 1995.  Now under implementation is a seven-point agenda:   to enhance the role of oil in the global market;  to achieve optimal domestic energy use;  to realize self-sufficiency in basic oils and improve their export potential while producing a greater number of high quality lubricants and greases;  to encourage private sector participation in the petroleum industry;  to develop qualified Saudi manpower;  to use appropriate technology for protection of the environment from possible pollution in the production, transportation, storage and refining stages of petroleum products;  and to rationalize water usage in the various production processes.

In 1994 the Kingdom's crude oil production reached about 8 mbd, corresponding to 13.4 percent of global production and 32.6 percent of OPEC production.  Oil and gas exploration programs undertaken during the fifth development plan (1990-94)  contributed to a net addition of 3.9 billion barrels to the Kingdom's crude oil reserves, estimated at 261.4 billion barrels in 1994.  Natural gas reserves rose by 160 billion cubic meters over the same period, both from existing sources and from the new fields discovered in the central region, to the south of the capital city of Riyadh, which are especially significant since their crude oil is of the lightest type with a very low sulfur content.  In addition, hydrocarbon reserves have been located in the Red Sea coastal plain at Gizan, near Madinah, and at Al-Wajh, as well as in the northwest area at Kahf, near Al-Jawf.  Over the fifth plan period primary distillation capacity was maintained at 1.57 mbd, while the production of refined products increased at an average annual rate of 3 percent.  Total domestic consumption of primary energy rose at an average annual rate of 7.8 percent, from 412 million barrels of crude in 1990 to 557.4 million barrels in 1994, with the consumption of refined products growing at 6.8 percent.

As for water, the main target in the Kingdom's sixth five-year development plan is the reduction of total water consumption from 18.2 billion cubic meters in 1995 to 17.5 billion cubic meters in 1999, and a decrease in the use of non-renewable ground water from 14.8 to 13 billion cubic meters over the same period.  These targets, to be achieved by reducing the rate of water consumption in agriculture at an average annual rate of 2.2 percent, and by rationalizing consumption rates for other purposes, are being implemented by:  the Water Affairs Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water, which oversees the water sector, including the potable water supply;  the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), which manages the desalination plants;  the Al-Hasa Irrigation and Drainage Authority, which focuses on research and development of water resources; and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, which manages household water supply and waste water disposal.

Water planning is an integral part of the comprehensive planning process in the Kingdom, for all four categories of water:  surface, ground, desalinated, and reclaimed.  By the end of the fifth plan the water sector had achieved the following:  optimal production capacity of the desalination plants to produce about 1.9 million cubic meters per day, with a potential expansion of another 1 million;  completion of three new dams to bring the total number to 183 with a combined holding capacity of 450 cubic meters, and additional dams under construction to increase this by another 325;  and review of existing water legislation, including issue of a resolution prohibiting water drilling in certain areas suffering from depletion of non-renewable ground water. 

As for the private sector, during the fifth plan it implemented a large number of projects financed by the state budget, including drilling 245 wells for drinking water, and operating a program in the Riyadh area for the use of reclaimed waste water with a capacity of 300,000 cubic meters per day.

With the continuing rapid increase in water consumption, the Saudi government is giving priority in the current sixth five-year plan (1995-99) and beyond, to the following key policy issues:  management of non-renewable ground water resources;  high water usage by agriculture, and the role of grain production in this;  the hydrological and hydro-geological studies needed to support and update the water database;  depletion in resources from natural water springs;  and shortage of trained national manpower.  In this latter issue, during the fifth plan the percentage of Saudis working in the agricultural sector increased from 94 percent in 1990 to 96 percent in 1994, and is expected to reach 99 percent by the end of the sixth plan.  The government's policies in the water sector aim to raise productivity through the continuing development of manpower, the establishment of targets for the economic utilization of water, the conservation and control of water resources, and the adoption of effective techniques and advanced technologies for the efficient distribution of water to the various categories of end-user.  Other measures for raising economic efficiency and attaining the optimal utilization of water resources in the sixth plan include the completion of the national water plan and implementation of water consumption rationalization measures, such as the adoption of a new tariff system for water consumption, efficient maintenance, expansion of sewage networks, and use of reclaimed waste water for agricultural purposes.