Photographer: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Aramco's Path From One Oil Well to World's Most Valuable Company

How Saudi Arabia's national oil company, Aramco, went from one well to the world's most valuable company.

Saudi Arabia's state oil producer is in a league of its own. The world's most valuable company, which supplies about one in every nine barrels of crude produced and runs refineries from the U.S. Gulf coast to the South China Sea, is preparing for an initial public offering to raise about $100 billion as soon as 2017.

Selling about 5 percent of Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Saudi Aramco, is the linchpin of a plan by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's son and influential deputy crown prince, to transform the nation's economy to survive in a post-hydrocarbon age. Prince Mohammed plans to plough proceeds from the sale into manufacturing, high-tech industries and services to wean the Saudi economy off the crude that first flowed from a desert well in 1938.

Aramco Logo
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

1933 

Saudi Arabia awards its first oil-exploration concession to Standard Oil of California, now Chevron, which sets up a local subsidiary, California Arabian Standard Oil Co. (Casoc), to manage an area bigger than Texas or France.

1936

Texas Co., or Texaco, now part of Chevron, becomes a 50 percent shareholder in Casoc.

1938

After a string of disappointments, Casoc follows advice of its Chief Geologist Max Steineke to “drill deeper’’ and discovers first oil at Dammam No. 7 well. Company makes advance payment to the government of 50,000 pounds in gold (about $250,000).

1944

Casoc is renamed Arabian American Oil Co., known as Aramco.

1948

Arab American Oil Company adds pipeline through the Saudi desert in 1951.

Aramco adds pipeline through the Saudi desert in 1951.

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Standard Oil of New Jersey and Socony-Vacuum Oil, both precursor companies of ExxonMobil, also take stakes, bringing the total number of Aramco’s shareholders to four, all of them U.S. oil majors. Aramco discovers oil at Ghawar, world’s biggest field still today.

1980

Seven years after buying an initial 25 percent interest, Saudi government pays partners $1.5 billion for remaining 40 percent of Aramco assets it doesn’t own. Company is now wholly Saudi owned.

1984

Ali Bin Ibrahim al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia's petroleum and mineral resources minister, speaks to journalists ahead of the 168th Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meeting in Vienna, Austria, on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. Oil headed for its fourth decline in five weeks as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries looked set to leave its production ceiling unchanged at a meeting in Vienna on Friday. Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Ali Bin Ibrahim al-Naimi

Ali al-Naimi

Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

Ali al-Naimi becomes Aramco’s first Saudi president.

1988

Arabian American Oil Co. changes name to Saudi Arabian Oil Co., also known as Saudi Aramco, and sets up its first refining and marketing joint venture, with Texaco in the U.S. Al-Naimi is appointed Aramco’s chief executive officer while continuing to serve as president.

1993

The Aramco Khurais oilfield in Saudi Arabia.
The Aramco Khurais oilfield in Saudi Arabia.
Photographer: Ali Jarekji/Corbis

Aramco, focused historically on exploration and production, becomes an integrated oil company when the government makes it responsible also for domestic refining, product distribution and international product marketing.

2006

Al-Qaeda militants launch unsuccessful attack on Aramco’s Abqaiq oil-processing facility. Two security guards and two attackers are killed, and crude prices surge more than 4 percent the same day.

2016

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Source: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

With more than 60,000 employees, Aramco operates subsidiaries and affiliates in China, Japan, India, South Korea, Singapore, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the U.K., the Netherlands and the U.S. In April, Saudi deputy crown prince announces plan for IPO, with less than 5 percent of company shares to be offered to investors in what could be the world’s largest share offering.

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