The Deserted Treasure Hunt: Saudi Arabia’s Vision Beyond Oil

Sep 8, 2023 | News | 0 comments

In the blistering heat of the Saudi desert, Renier Swiegers isn’t drilling for oil but hunting for something equally captivating: metals worth trillions. Saudi Arabia, known for its oil supremacy, now eyes the vast wealth underneath – not oil, but metals.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is gearing up to dive into a $1.3 trillion metal treasure. While sports, movies, and tourism have already felt the effects of Saudi’s energy affluence, this move into metals marks a transformative vision for the economy. Yet, while Vision 2030 has glamorous facets, this pivot to metals is met with skepticism. But then again, Prince Mohammed is not one short on ambition or resources.

Enter Swiegers, a Namibian geologist, scouting the perfect spot near Riyadh for Moxico Resources Plc. He envisions the Khnaiguiyah site bursting with metals by 2025. A start, albeit small globally. But Saudi has bigger dreams – to double such projects.

Parallelly, Saudi aims to acquire foreign resources, refining them domestically. A recent foray into Brazil, where they purchased a stake in Vale SA’s base metals unit, exemplifies this strategy. Such acquisitions place Saudi strategically in the global metal race, vital for a greener future, including electric car batteries.

The kingdom’s goal is clear: position itself as a key player in the global metal industry, rivaling China. “Saudi Arabia needs more than oil to realize its dream,” says Khalid Al Mudaifer, vice minister of mining affairs. As copper gains global attention, Saudi also explores possibilities in uranium and phosphates for its budding nuclear ambitions. This, predictably, sets off alarm bells globally, with the kingdom reiterating its peaceful nuclear intents.

Yet, challenges loom large. Geological concerns highlight smaller deposits compared to mammoth reserves in Latin America and Central Africa. Then there’s the water scarcity in the desert kingdom and infrastructural hurdles.

Success stories, like the Khnaiguiyah project, may dictate the course. And if Ajlan & Bros’ $14 billion investment vision is anything to go by, the kingdom seems optimistic about emerging as a prominent metal player, enticing even Chinese and European trading houses.

Saudi’s collaboration with the Chinese Geological Survey furthers their ambition. And though skeptics persist, significant players in the mining sector, like Mark Bristow of Barrick Gold Corp, see immense potential in the kingdom’s vision.

To sweeten the pot, Saudi offers alluring incentives for mining ventures: generous financing, tax caps, and special funds. Vision 2030 projects the mining sector to inject $75 billion into Saudi’s GDP by the end of the decade.

Despite the enticing vision, large miners still approach with caution. But, as the country’s previous risks and ventures demonstrate, under Prince Mohammed, Saudi is willing to chase dreams few other nations dare to.

Mike Henry, CEO of BHP Group Ltd., acknowledges the very real potential in Saudi’s vision after visiting the kingdom. Yet, whether industry titans jump on board remains the cliffhanger.

So, as the desert sun sets, we’re left pondering: Can Saudi Arabia reinvent its legacy, trading oil derricks for metal drills?

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