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DHAHRAN: Saudi Aramco has become synonymous with the longstanding partnership between the Kingdom and the United States, and is arguably one of the most successful financial collaborations in the world.

The name “Aramco” is an acronym for Arabian-American Company. The pact between the two countries is like sand, made up of individual particles brought together in a vast integrated collective.

To understand the current alliance between countries across Aramco, one must look back.

Ali Al-Naimi, who served as chairman and CEO of Aramco, served as Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources from 1995 to 2016. (Supplied)

It all started in 1933 when Standard Oil of California established a new overseas exploration unit after signing a concession agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A subsidiary, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company, was created to manage this agreement.

Ambitious and optimistic, but with no known track record, drilling began in the Saudi desert in 1935. Geologists had a hunch they would find something there.

Back then, they used to spot areas in the sweltering heat of Dammam and use their observations, and often simple guesses, to determine where to drill. They did it on six different occasions, finding nothing but a costly disappointment.

Then, in 1938, American geologist Max Steineke told his team to “keep drilling.” He found liquid gold on lucky number seven. This first viable oil well was affectionately named Dammam-7, or “Prosperity Well”. It’s a name that is often still used with affection in Dhahran, where Saudi Aramco’s headquarters are located.

American geologist Max Steineke. (Provided)

Fast forward to this century, as the search for oil and gas became more difficult, the company turned to technology and the 2D seismic exploration program in the 1960s. With the advent of computing power from IBM and Cray in the 1990s and early 2000s, Aramco was able to deploy 3D seismic technology.

This allowed geoscientists to more accurately determine drill locations from 3D images to create more complex and detailed views of the subsurface at depths of several kilometres. This has led to an ever-increasing need for massive amounts of data such as High Channel Count seismic surveys, and the development of advanced and complex computing power to process it all.

In the 1970s, the Saudi government gradually began to buy additional shares of the company, first 25%, then 60%, until it took full ownership of the company in 1980. In 1988, the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, or Aramco, was born and Ali Al-Naimi became the first Saudi CEO. Before that, all presidents were American men. Many American expats still call Aramco home and call its camp “Mini America.”

The company went public and was officially listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) in late 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

With increased productivity and world-class technology, the company has maintained a foothold in America, through its subsidiary, Aramco Americas, located in another hot climate in Houston, Texas. Its official website says it has several basic services.

This first viable oil well was affectionately named Dammam-7, or “Prosperity Well”. It’s a name that is often still used with affection in Dhahran, where Saudi Aramco’s headquarters are located. (Provided)

This includes managing a network of three US research centers and technology offices in Houston, Boston and Detroit. Additionally, he is responsible for identifying upstream and downstream technologies, best practices and potential technology partners for Saudi Aramco; and the procurement of goods and services, including engineering services. Another task is to recruit and train Saudi Aramco-sponsored students and employees in North America.

Today, Aramco Americas wears many helmets. In this complex, they publish one of the oldest US-based magazines for English readers about the Arab and Muslim world.

Their award-winning bimonthly print magazine focuses on creating cross-cultural understanding between East and West. Their first issue was published in November 1949 with publishers in different parts of the world.

The magazine was renamed Saudi Aramco World in 2000 and renamed AramcoWorld in 2015. The editorial office moved to Houston in 1987, where it still produces stories today. Their glossy printed pages deliver to interested US addresses and those Aramcons in Dhahran six times a year.

Constantly evolving, they now have a dedicated smartphone application, and an exhaustive photo archive in which 50,000 images can be searched. The print edition of AramcoWorld’s website says it has some 35,000 subscribers in more than 125 countries.

Aramco Americas has sought to diversify away from oil and gas and focus on vital areas such as sustainability and the environment. Recently, he started a project funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Coral Reef Conservation, in which efforts are being made to help save and rebuild important reefs in the United States and other coastal areas.

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