Ex-Aramco Official: US Cable Wrong to Dispute Saudi Reserves

LONDON (Dow Jones Newswires), Feb. 9, 2011

A former executive of Saudi Arabian Oil Company, known as Saudi Aramco, who was referenced in a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable saying the kingdom's oil reserves were overstated by 300 billion barrels, said he was misquoted.

Sadad al-Husseini, a former head of Saudi Aramco's exploration unit, told Dow Jones Newswires that he had "no doubt that the figures Aramco is publishing officially are actually right."

The world's largest oil producer has declared proven oil reserves of 260 billion barrels and oil in place, which includes unrecoverable oil reserves, of 716 billion barrels.

Cables quoted by U.K. newspaper the Guardian said al-Husseini had in 2007 challenged figures given by the current Saudi Aramco exploration head that reserves were 716 billion barrels and would rise to 900 billion barrels in 20 years. The comments by al-Husseini would mean that Saudi Arabia's oil reserves were 40% less than reported, the newspaper had said.

But al-Husseini said he only challenged the 900 billion barrels projection, which is not an officially published figure, and was correcting a misapprehension that the 716 billion barrels figure given as Saudi oil in place was the same as the country's actual reserves.

"What I'm disputing (in the leaked cable) is the 900 billion barrels figure, and correcting the fact that the 716 billion barrel figure is oil in place, not reserves," he told Dow Jones. "If you look at Aramco's report on reserves, it says 260 billion barrels. If you say this figure is 700 billion barrels, you're overstating it."

The fact that al-Husseini said his conversation with diplomats was casual potentially explains the discrepancies in figures.

In the past al-Husseini, who retired at the end of 2003, has also said proven reserves in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries are inflated by 300 billion barrels.

He told Dow Jones that estimate did not include Saudi Arabia, however.

"Saudi Aramco and Saudi Arabia have a very professional approach to reserves information, so the reserves they publish are credible," he said. "But other OPEC countries include probable and potential resources and call them reserves."

According to the cable, al-Husseini said in 2007 Saudi Aramco would not reach output capacity of 12.5 million barrels a day by 2009, but only "within the next 10 years".

In fact, the kingdom says it achieved that level of production capacity in 2010--a statement accepted as true by al-Husseini.

Saudi Aramco declined to comment on the leaked cable.

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