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SAUDI ARABIA - Industry

Abdullah Bin Mufter Al-Shamrani

CEO, Saudi Geological Survey (SGS)

Bio

Engineer Abdullah Bin Muftar Al-Shamrani is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Geological Survey. He is a chemical engineering graduate of King Saud University in Riyadh and has extensive professional and executive experiences, spanning more than 32 years, in top Saudi petrochemical and agrochemical industries.

"One of the main challenges in the mining system, especially after COVID-19, is the huge demand for minerals."
TBY talks to Abdullah Bin Mufter Al-Shamrani, CEO of the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), about its operations in Saudi Arabia, the organisation’s achievements, and priorities for 2024.
Could you introduce the SGS’s operations in Saudi Arabia?

The SGS is a government authority that was established in 1999. Its main objective or mandate is to survey and explore the natural resources within the region of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. When we say natural resources, we mean minerals, water, and geothermal energy. At the same time, it also refers to the monitoring and analyses of geohazards that are related to the natural environment, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruption, landslides, floods, etc.

What are the milestones achieved by the authority so far?

Conducting a comprehensive survey has become an integral long-term undertaking. Notably, our diligent work has resulted to the identification of over 5,500 mineral occurrences, providing a valuable resource for both our clientele and the governmental bodies. More recently, we successfully discovered a geothermal source of renewable energy, where we can obtain energy from the ground itself. This pioneering discovery holds significant promise with regards to our commitment to decarbonization and the pursuit of zero emissions. Another significant milestone on our journey has been the establishment of a national database, ensuring that all our delivery, exploration, and discovery efforts are accessible to our customers and investors. This comprehensive repository integrates a wealth of crucial information, including detailed data on mineral occurrences, fostering seamless connectivity with all stakeholders. Moreover, we take immense pride in the launching of our platform, Rawasi, which was introduced this year. Rawasi is a robust monitoring and reporting system for geohazards, not just in Saudi Arabia, but in the region. With a network of over 300 monitoring stations that are dedicated to tracking earthquakes and associated geohazards, Rawasi is a testament to our unwavering commitment to proactive risk management and safety protocols.

How would you assess the industry (geological and scientific) landscape, and what opportunities and challenges have you observed over the past year?

One of the main challenges in the mining system, especially after COVID-19, is the huge demand for minerals. That and the commitment of countries around the globe to achieve decarbonization targets by 2050. This is putting more pressure on expediting exploration efforts worldwide. Indeed, the objective has led to a scarcity of skilled professionals, with many individuals involved in exploration or surveying roles becoming fully engaged. While their dedication is commendable, this intensified workload has the potential to impact the overall quality of deliverables, necessitating measures to enhance operational efficiency and performance. This is a global challenge that companies are set to face.

Aligned with Vision 2030, what main initiatives is the Saudi Geological Survey implementing to support the Kingdom’s goals?

The main Vision for 2030 underscores the establishment of the mining sector as the third pillar of the Saudi economy, following the precedence of the oil and gas industry and the chemical industry. Supported by our comprehensive data analysis, which has identified approximately 5,600 mineral sites, we have estimated the collective value of these resources at around USD1.3 trillion. To effectively realize this vision, we have launched several programs that are focused on exploring the untapped potentials within Saudi Arabia. Recognizing the historical underutilization of the nation’s mining sector, we have embarked on an ambitious exploration project that encompasses the entire Arabian Shield, constituting a vast area that spans approximately 630sqkm. This venture involves a comprehensive geophysical survey by employing aerial methods, including magnetic, electromagnetic, and gravity surveys, with the initial phase now approaching 60% completion. In tandem with this, we have implemented a geochemical analysis program to extract ground samples, enabling us to identify and assess the mineral composition of deposits within the region. Furthermore, the Accelerated Exploration Program has been instrumental in expediting the transition of promising sites to a pre-feasibility stage, thereby facilitating partnerships and investments from interested contractors and investors. On the other hand, we also led the development of specific initiatives in the realm of geothermal energy. Notably, we have recently focused on enhancing the National Geological Database (NGD) to create a more investor-friendly platform, integrating cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence to streamline and enhance operational efficiency within the sector. At the same time, using AI, we have also prioritized proactive measures to analyze or forecast potential geohazards by conducting several programs. Through the efforts of the Ministry of Industry and Mining, we are dedicated to fostering a transparent and competitive mining sector that is aligned with global standards and best practices. Our continuous endeavors aim to ensure the success of the 2030 Vision, thereby positioning the mining sector as a key player in the global landscape, while ensuring compliance with established regulations and fostering an environment that is conducive to growth and development.

How is your client portfolio composed, including your key partnerships and institutions?

Everyone above ground is a client for us. Whether it is the government, private sector, investors, or individuals we are working with on natural resources, and at the same time, in the geoscience realm. With our comprehensive focus on natural resources and geoscience, our works extend to a wide array of stakeholders, including government bodies, such as the Ministry of Industry and Mining, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Building Structure and Infrastructure, among others. We provide them with essential data and insights to facilitate informed decision-making and subsequent action. Moreover, our operations extend to addressing specific requests and commissions from governmental authorities. These requests often pertain to conducting targeted studies and analyses in areas, such as geohazards, mineral resource acceleration, water resource management, and other related domains.

Have you witnessed any demand for your services from any specific sector or company?

For most companies, the primary objectives are to generate significant revenue and secure substantial market. And because of the huge demand nowadays for renewable and future minerals, there is a growing emphasis on identifying and procuring these critical resources that hold paramount importance for various industries. Notably, minerals, such as copper, zinc, lithium, manganese, and iron have emerged as pivotal components for future endeavors, prompting a concerted effort within companies to ensure their availability and accessibility. Furthermore, in recognition of the burgeoning significance of these minerals in the context of renewable energy, particularly in the production of solar panels, we actively engage in facilitating their accessibility to promote entrepreneurship and the broader adoption of sustainable energy practices. We emphasize the availability of these crucial minerals. This is the major thing that the customers look for. They are looking for minerals that will shape the future.

Can you share your thoughts about the importance of international cooperation for the authority?

Geoscience is a continually evolving field, where various parties must study, analyze, and learn from each other. Recognizing that the collective expertise of individuals, specializing in various geoscience disciplines, is imperative in addressing global challenges, the industry underscores the significance of fostering collaboration, networking, and the exchange of information and knowledge. Various sector agents seek to assist each other in the realization that there is a huge demand for minerals. At the SGS, we have proactively established a memorandum of cooperation with similar organizations globally, including the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Geological Survey of Finland, counterparts in China and Russia, and numerous other international entities. This collaboration is a testament to our commitment to working in unison and leveraging our collective strengths to address the challenges and demands of the global geoscience. For example, we have initiated plans for a comprehensive face-to-face meeting at the “Future Minerals Roundtable.” Additionally, geological survey leaders will explore strategies to address mutual challenges, especially for underserved countries around the globe that may lack the resources and infrastructure for comprehensive geological surveys.

When we look at potential international partners, like Canada and Australia, what would you say are the biggest opportunities for global investors?

We are exploring the entire region to make comprehensive data available to potential investors. Notably, the Kingdom presents a wealth of untapped mineral resources. Meanwhile, a legal framework that is conducive to investment has been put into place by the government, providing a sense of security and confidence to the investors. Moreover, investors enjoy the advantage of operating in a country with notably low taxation at 21 or 22%. Therefore, the Kingdom is an appealing proposition in comparison to global counterparts, where tax rates often hover at around 24% or 25%. The opportunity is here, the minerals are underexploited, and there is great support from all parties within the country. And meanwhile, we remain committed to ensuring the seamless availability of pertinent information to investors. Through this, we provide investors with comprehensive and real-time insights, facilitating informed decision-making and propelling the success and growth of their ventures within the Kingdom.

What are your priorities for 2024?

In the short-term, our primary goal is to make sure that we are integrating cutting-edge technology to become a more modernized organization. We aim to expedite our processes and streamline our operations, thereby ensuring a more responsive and agile approach to addressing the needs of our clientele. Concurrently, we are dedicated to fostering a culture of continuous improvement within our organization, bolstering our capabilities and empowering our workforce with the necessary skills and tools to navigate the dynamic landscape of the geoscience industry effectively.

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