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Saturday, September 22, 2018


Saudi purchase of Port Arthur refinery sends clear message

Tamor Khan/The Cougar

Aramco, the Saudi-owned goliath of the oil and gas world, acquired full ownership of the United States’ largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in May. Yet CNN Money was one of the only U.S.-based media outlets to cover the takeover, and when the refinery shut down temporarily during Hurricane Harvey’s flooding, even that coverage barely mentioned the refinery’s new owners.

Considering our president’s concern with international influence in the U.S.’s capitalist sphere, you would think this new takeover would have led to a flurry of belligerent tweets. But perhaps his intimate relationship with the Saudis has changed his mind.

At first glance, this acquisition seems innocuous.

The Port Arthur refinery yields 600,000 barrels daily, and its new owner has received very little media attention. The site provides employment opportunities to Texans, and despite the new owner, U.S. laws of employment policy still apply, so austere and discriminatory Saudi rules won’t have much playtime here. 

Ed Hirs, a lecturer in UH’s Department of Economics, said while the ownership of the refinery is arbitrary, the true point of concern is “whose oil we will be refining.” But because Saudi Aramco owns this refinery, it has a guaranteed market for its own crude oil.

This follows the precedent set by the Venezuelan purchase of Citgo in 1986, which established the notion of foreign ownership of U.S. refineries and gave priority to Venezuelan oil. Citgo, 50 percent owned by Venezuela’s government, is exempt from financial sanctions imposed on the country’s other businesses.

The Saudis could receive these benefits as well.

The greater issue with this trade deal is the message it conveys to the international community.

To Saudi Arabia, granting women the right to drive is considered progress. It’s laughable that the United States, a country supposedly enshrined in freedom, happily allies and conducts trade negotiations with Saudi leaders. Its utter lack of the middle class and the massive wage discrepancies are only a glimpse of the social injustices of that country.

What makes this partnership different is its social implications. While the Trump administration seems staunchly anti-Muslim, our president has much in common with the Saudi regime, such as the tendency to polarize citizens based on race and mistreatment based on gender.

The overall message is this: Regardless of the Saudis’ countless human rights violations, such as the airstrikes on Yemen and imprisonment of political dissidents, it is OK as long as they provide us with oil.

All of this culminates in the enigmatic relationship the United States retains with Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration makes it practically impossible to discern the virtues and vices of our demonized ally in the east. The flurry of anti-Muslim rhetoric couples oddly with the cozy misadventures of Trump and King Salman, making it impossible to divorce appearances from reality.

The message sent by the United States to the rest of the world is that we will reward Saudi insolence with a guaranteed market for their oil, a site to refine and impunity from infamy. This refinery symbolizes a lot more to the international community than the residents of Port Arthur recognize.

Staff writer Anusheh Siddique is a political science freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]

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