In Saudi Arabia, a land endowed with rich natural resources, but especially renowned for its oil reserves, our ambition is to make our minerals industry the third pillar of the economy. That aim has come a step closer following the near doubling of our assessment of how much mineral wealth lies beneath the Kingdom in the Arabian Shield.
Five years ago, our journey to uncover the untapped mineral wealth in the Kingdom’s began.
At that time, our mineral potential assessment promised $1.3 trillion of minerals such as copper, phosphate, gold and zinc awaiting exploration. However, we knew there were even more abundant resources waiting to be discovered – many of which are the minerals the world is counting on to deliver the cleaner energy technologies needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
We began this journey by comprehensively revamping our Mining Investment Law. No less than the U.S Department of Commerce has lauded for “[Facilitating] investor access to financing and supports exploration and geological survey activities.”
This has created an investor-friendly environment and transformed our Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources into an investor-centric organization. The result was an extraordinary increase in the number of exploration and mining licenses we issued. Over the past three years, we have issued four times more licenses than in the six years prior, which reflects a newfound enthusiasm and confidence in our mining sector. Our commitment to exploration has also resulted in a significant surge in exploration expenditure, rising from 18.5 USD per km2 in 2019 to 48 USD per km2 by 2023.
We embarked on an ambitious expedition across the vast expanse of the Arabian Shield which spans over 700,000 Km2. Our regional geological survey has already covered an impressive 30% of the Arabian Shield, while we expanded our geochemistry program to cover 40% of this vital area, analysing more than 76 elements. In tandem with these efforts the National Geological database has reached more than 10 terabytes worth of critical data – an increase of 50% over the past three years, transforming it into an investor-friendly global repository of invaluable information about the Kingdom’s geology.
“I am delighted to announce that our estimation for the kingdom’s untapped mineral potential has increased from $1.3 trillion to $2.5 trillion, an increase of 90 percent,” said Industry and Mineral Resources Minister Bandar Alkhorayef in Riyadh earlier this year.
As we continue to review the mineral potential of the Kingdom, this will enable us to better shape our minerals policy to accelerate exploration efforts.
The substantial increase in our assessment of our phosphate resources showcases the huge investment that has been made in infrastructure at the Kingdom’s northern border, enabling access to additional resources.
It is also a shining example of the value of the exploration work led by our national champion, Ma’aden, and ensures the sustainability of the industrial cities built around these phosphate resources. The increasing demand for iron ore in the Kingdom has enhanced the viability of local iron ore deposits. Furthermore, our focused exploration program on heavy rare earth elements and transition minerals – mainly niobium – has contributed to the Kingdom’s mineral wealth. These minerals, such as neodymium and dysprosium, are currently in high demand to meet the demand for magnets in electrical vehicles. This is enabling the diversification of our resources base towards the energy transition technology sector.
Having demonstrated the game changing difference that a focus on exploration can deliver, I am thrilled to unveil our latest initiative, in partnership with the Ministry of Investment and the National Incentive Committee – the exploration incentive program with a budget exceeding $182 million over the next seven years. This program aims to support explorers and attract new investment in our exploration sector. It will cover part of the drilling, geoscientific activities, and the local talent development, aiming to de-risk investment in exploration for the critical and strategic minerals needed for the global energy transition.
Additionally, our commitment to developing modern mining operations is clear in the announcement of this year’s licensing round program, which offers access to 33 new exploration sites. These sites represent not just new potential, but opportunities waiting to be seized, with contractual commitments to ensure social and environmental sustainability.
We have also announced the tendering of the first Volcanogenic Massive Sulfide (VMS) belt, Jabal Sayid. By offering larger exploration blocks of above 2,000 km2, we aim to atract larger players to explore the Kingdom for Tier One deposits. The area of Jabal Sayid is equivalent to the total of all 33 sites in our regular tenders program and is rich in copper, zinc, and gold – essential minerals for the strategic industries vital to our nation’s growth.
Saudi Arabia’s story of exploration and discovery continues. The potential within our grasp has never been greater. By inviting exploration pioneers to join us on this quest and by unveiling new land available for licensing, we have set a course towards unearthing new riches. These will not only drive our economy but also guide the mineral industry’s path towards a brighter, more sustainable future while helping to achieve resilience in global supply chains.