WASHINGTON - Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi on Tuesday called the U.S. push for energy independence "naive," saying the country will continue to need Middle Eastern oil long into the future.
Naimi said he welcomed the surge in U.S. domestic energy production from shale oil and gas fields, which he said will add depth and stability to global oil markets.
"Newly commercial reserves of shale or tight oil are transforming the energy industry in America -- and that's great news," he told an audience of policy makers and academics at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington.
"It is helping to sustain the U.S. economy and create jobs at a difficult time."
"I welcome these new supplies into the global oil market," he added.
On the other hand, he said, it was not realistic to believe this would help the U.S. eliminate imports of oil, a goal of some Americans who argue energy independence is crucial for the country's security.
Despite the domestic production gains, U.S. imports of Middle East oil in the second half of 2012 were higher than any time since the 1990s, Naimi said.
The U.S. "will continue to meet domestic demand by utilizing a range of different sources, including from the Middle East. This is simply sound economics.
"I believe this talk of ending reliance is a naive, rather simplistic view."
Naimi, meanwhile, emphasized that Saudi Arabia remains able to sustain its reserves at the current 266 billion barrels and said that could increase, especially if technology for extracting "tight" shale oil and gas improves.
But he contradicted comments by another top Saudi official, former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, on Saudi oil development plans.
In a speech Monday at Harvard University, Turki said Saudi Arabia would increase production capacity to 15 million barrels a day from the current 12.5 million bd.
"Saudi Arabia's national production management scheme is set to increase total capacity to 15 million barrels per day and have an export potential of 10 barrels per day by 2020," Turki said.
Naimi suggested Turki misspoke.
"We have no plans" for that, Naimi said. "We don't really see a need to build a capacity beyond what we have today."
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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