OPINION: Saudi Arabia’s plan to build a giant offshore oil theme park aims to position the country as the flagbearer of the global hydrocarbon industry in the long term and develop a domestic tourism industry centred around crude, the most vital pillar of its economy.

The nation is spending billions of dollars on expanding its crude production capacity to 13 million barrels per day, undeterred by the ongoing energy transition and despite widespread criticism from the West on its strategy to continue drilling hundreds of wells.

Saudi Arabia firmly believes crude will continue to be a dominant part of the world’s energy basket for years to come and requires sustained investments.

The proposed oil theme amusement park — dubbed The Rig, by the Saudi’s state-owned Public Investment Fund (PIF) — might not go well with environmentalists and critics of the upstream industry, but it provides a unique opportunity for the country to showcase the strength of its local oil industry and attract international tourists.

While millions of tourists are attracted to nearby destinations such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia has been unable to capitalise on this opportunity, due in part to concerns over its human rights record and restrictions on women’s freedom.

The oil theme park could also help the country attract positive headlines after Saudi Arabia’s image was tarnished by the Jamal Khashoggi affair, involving the assassination of a Saudi dissident and journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been ushering in several reforms and is expected to greenlight billions of dollars worth of spending in the coming years to help develop the nation’s tourism sector.

Some might argue that the oil theme park is a blatant misuse of resources by one of the richest economies in the region and could pose serious environmental concerns in the wake of massive newbuild offshore structures and risks to the marine ecosystem in the vicinity.

However, the PIF claims that The Rig seeks “environmental protection in support of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to preserve the environment” — a statement that still lacks substance and clarity.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)

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