Saudi Aramco in talks with Reliance Industries, others to invest in India

NEW DELHI: Saudi Aramco, the world’s most profitable company, is in talks with Indian refining giant Reliance Industries and other companies for investing in refineries and petrochemical projects in the country, CEO Amin Al-Nasser said.

Top Saudi officials, on a visit to New Delhi along with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said India was the top priority for the world’s biggest crude oil producer, and that the investment plans were over and above the proposed $44-billion refinery being set up by Aramco and India’s PSU oil companies in Maharashtra.

Aramco did not give details of the proposed investment but Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said the country had an enormous appetite for business in India and that it wanted much more than the refining joint venture already announced. “One project, no matter how large, is not enough,” he said.

‘INDIA NO. 1 PRIORITY FOR RIYADH’

Saudi Arabia’s interest in India is part of its strategy to increase its share in Asia’s crude oil market and invest more in refining and petrochemicals to reduce its economy’s dependence on crude oil sales. In line with this strategy, Aramco, which aspired for a market valuation of $2 trillion when it was contemplating an IPO, has invested billions of dollars in refining and petrochemicals projects in South Korea, a major energy consumer.

It has also invested $7 billion in a joint venture with Malaysia’s Petronas for a refinery that will buy at least half of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Analysts said Aramco has similar plans for India, one of the world’s top energy consumers.

The Saudi energy minister said India was “number-1 priority” for Riyadh. Its national oil company Aramco and petrochemicals major Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) are scouting for opportunities.

“We want SABIC and Aramco to become household names in India,” al-Falih said.

The Maharashtra government recently announced plans to relocate the proposed refinery after widespread protests hindered land acquisition for the project.

Al-Nasser said he remained positive on his company’s investment in India. “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 the search for an alternative site may delay the project beyond the deadline of 2025.

The alternative site will be in Maharashtra, said B Ashok, the chief executive of the proposed refinery project. The Maharashtra government will be able to identify, acquire and hand over 15 000 acres of coastal land needed for the project to us, he said, adding the project will not be delayed.