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Petroleum Production in Saudi Arabia

Saleh M. Billo

Oil exploration in Saudi Arabia began in September 1933, and test drilling in 1934. Annual commercial production averaging 100,000 bbl/day started in 1938 from Damman oil field. Abquaiq and Quatif fields tacked on 200,000 and 5,000 bbl/day in 1941 and 1945, respectively. Production increased to more than 246,000 bbl/day in 1947, reached 300,000 by 1948 and jumped to 500,000 in 1949. Safaniya, the world's largest offshore reservoir, and Ghawar, the world's largest onshore oil field, were discovered in 1951 and 1954 consecutively. Among other notable fields, Khursaniyah, Khurais, and Manifa were discovered, the first in 1956, and the rest in 1957 successively. Berri, a reservoir which underlies both land and water, was divested in 1964. The Kingdom reached its 9.9 million b l/day production peak in 1980, and has shrunk to its prevalent 4.34 million bbl/day Opec quota level. The proven oil reserves have risen by 85 billion bbl to 255 billion in January following a six year study. With additional development and exploration, the remaining reserves could be as high as 313 billion bbl of oil.

During most of its geologic history, the producing area protracted between the Arabian shield and Tethyan seaway. The principal reservoir beds are composed of four members of the productive Arab Formation that expound quadruple major cycles of porous calcarenitic limestones and dolomites alternating with impervious evaporitic cap rocks favorably located on the foreland shelf. The area is characterized by structural traps with maximum oil-filled closure of about 1,300 feet. Crude oil export output appears certain to rise again this year to meet world demand.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91028©1989 AAPG History of Petroleum Industry Symposium, September 17-20, 1989, Titusville, Pennsylvania.