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On March 3, 1938, an American-owned oil well in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, drilled into what would soon be identified as the largest source of petroleum in the world. The discovery radically changed the physical, human, and political geography of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and the world.
 
Before the discovery (made by the company that would eventually become Chevron), Saudi Arabians were largely nomadic. The country’s economy was based on tourism revenue from observant Muslims’ pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca. After the discovery, Saudis established strong infrastructure dotted with wells, pipelines, refineries, and ports. Today, oil accounts for more than 92% of the Saudi budget.
 
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest producers and exporters of oil in the world. The lucrative petroleum trade fostered sophisticated diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the West, as well as Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. Most industrialized nations depend on petroleum imports, and critics claim this allows Saudi Arabia to have an outsized role in some foreign policy decisions, especially those surrounding the Middle East
 
The discovery of oil also changed the demographics of the kingdom. Today, millions of foreign workers—from the U.S., India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and the Middle East—live and work in Saudi Arabia.
demographic
Adjective

having to do with the social characteristics and statistics of a population.

developed country
Noun

a nation that has high levels of economic activity, health care, and education.

diplomatic relations
Noun

the formal ties between nations.

drill
Verb

to make a hole using a rotating digging tool.

economy
Noun

system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

establish
Verb

to form or officially organize.

export
Noun

good or service traded to another area.

foreign policy
Noun

courses of action or thought that guide a nation's relationship with other nations.

foster
Verb

to promote the growth or development of something.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

holy
Adjective

spiritually blessed or sacred.

immigrate
Verb

to move to a new place.

import
Noun

good traded from another area.

industrialize
Verb

to develop large-scale factories and plants (industry).

industry
Noun

activity that produces goods and services.

infrastructure
Noun

structures and facilities necessary for the functioning of a society, such as roads.

Noun

type of government with a king or queen as its leader, or the land ruled by that king or queen.

lucrative
Adjective

profitable or money-making.

Middle East
Noun

region of southwest Asia and northeast Africa.

molt
Verb

to shed fur, skin, feathers, or other body covering.

Muslim
Adjective

having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

nomadic
Adjective

having to do with a way of life lacking permanent settlement.

observant
Adjective

attentive and obedient to a custom, ritual, or rule of law.

outsized
Adjective

unusually large.

Noun

fossil fuel formed from the remains of ancient organisms. Also called crude oil.

pilgrimage
Noun

spiritual journey or travel to a sacred place.

Noun

place on a body of water where ships can tie up or dock and load and unload cargo.

radically
Adverb

completely or extremely.

revenue
Noun

income, or money earned before production costs are subtracted.

sophisticated
Adjective

knowledgeable or complex.

tourism
Noun

the industry (including food, hotels, and entertainment) of traveling for pleasure.

trade
Noun

buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

transportation
Noun

movement of people or goods from one place to another.