As the global energy industry stares transfixed at a spectacular drop in U.S. rigs, Saudi Arabia is ramping up the number of machines drilling for oil and gas despite a sharp fall in the price of crude. Industry sources and analysts say the OPEC kingpin is looking beyond the halving of global oil prices since June 2014 to a time when crude could again be in short supply. Riyadh is therefore keen to preserve what is known as its spare capacity – the kingdom’s unique ability to raise oil output quickly at any given moment. But to achieve that, Saudi Arabia has to drill much more than in the past, after boosting output to record levels to compensate for global supply outages in the past four years.
“The Saudis are probably worried about everyone else reducing capex as a result of low oil prices and about non-OPEC output falling off a cliff at some point. We all know that supply disruptions are unpredictable but they are certain,” said Gary Ross, executive chairman of New York oil consultancy PIRA. “The increase in Saudi rig numbers is like a signal to the industry – let’s be rational. We will need supply growth in the future.” State oil giant Saudi Aramco used a record-high 210 oil and gas rigs in 2014, up from around 150 in 2013, 140 in 2012 and some 100 in 2011, according to previous industry estimates.