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The petroleum industry includes the global processes of exploration, extraction, refining, transporting (often by oil tankers and pipelines), and marketing petroleum products. The largest volume products of the industry are fuel oil and gasoline (petrol). Petroleum (oil) is also the raw material for many chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics. The industry is usually divided into three major components: upstream, midstream and downstream. Midstream operations are usually included in the downstream category.

Petroleum is vital to many industries, and is of importance to the maintenance of industrial civilization in its current configuration, and thus is a critical concern for many nations. Oil accounts for a large percentage of the world’s energy consumption, ranging from as low of 32% for Europe and Asia, up to a high of 53% for the Middle East.

The Middle Eastern region is abundantly endowed with oil and gas resources. Of the 1,050 billion barrels of proven crude oil reserves the MENA region accounted for about 69 percent. In contrast, the region accounted for just about 31 percent of total world production, and about 50 percent of exports, which clearly demonstrates the centrality of the region to the present and future of the global oil market. Although new oil reserves continue to be discovered and developed in various countries, such as in the countries of the former Soviet Union and in offshore West Africa, most forecasts indicate that dependence on Middle Eastern oil will increase in the coming years, as production starts to decline in the key North Sea basin and elsewhere.

The proven oil reserves in Saudi Arabia are the second largest claimed in the world, estimated to be 267 billion barrels (42×109m3) (Gbbl hereafter), including 2.5 Gbbl in the Saudi–Kuwaiti neutral zone. These reserves were the largest in the world until Venezuela announced they had increased their proven reserves to 297 Gbbl in January 2011. The Saudi reserves are about one-fifth of the world's total conventional oil reserves, a large fraction of these reserves comes from a small number of very large oil fields, and past production amounts to 40% of the stated reserves.

Although Saudi Arabia has around 100 major oil and gas fields, over half of its oil reserves are contained in only eight giant oil fields, including the Ghawar Field, the biggest oil field in the world with an estimated 70 billion barrels of remaining reserves. 90% of Saudi Arabia's oil production comes from five fields and up to 60% of its production comes from the Ghawar field.

Production: Saudi Arabia produced 10.3 million barrels per day (1.6×106 m3/d) (Mbbl/d) in 1980, 10.6 Mbbl/d in 2006, and in the region of 9.2 Mbbl/d in 2008. Saudi Arabia maintains the world’s largest crude oil production capacity, estimated to be approx. 11 Mbbl/d at mid-year 2008 and announced plans to increase this capacity to 12.5 Mbbl/d by 2009. Cumulative production up to, and including, the year 2009 was 119.4 billion bbl. Using the stated number of 267 Gbbl, past production amounts to 40% of the stated reserves.