Saudi Arabia may be the first country in the Middle East to see an operating oil-to-chemicals processing facility and the second country globally boasting such a plant after ExxonMobil opened its facility in Singapore last year. The project was presented by Prince Saud bin Abdullah bin Thenayan Al-Saud, chairman of Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), during the SABIC Innovation Day inauguration.

The Saudi petrochemical company hopes to complete the facility by 2020, when it would start producing chemicals from about 10 million tons of crude oil per year. This equals about 200,000 barrels of crude per day, which is comparable to an average oil refinery, Reuters reported, quoting a statement from the company. The location of the planned facility, the expected value of the investment and the type of crude to be processed were not specified by SABIC.

Developing the country's petrochemical potential is a central part of the government's plans to diversify the Saudi energy sector. Over the past few decades the country has been heavily dependent on crude oil exports, but recently there has been a trend towards new types of energy- and fuel-related industries. In March, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi first introduced the idea of building a facility that would transform crude oil into chemicals without refining it first. He said then that the plant would be located in one of the largest industrial hubs, Yanbu.