A massive oil pipeline carries petroleum from Dharan, Saudi Arabia, near where oil was first discovered in the country. Today, oil accounts for more than 90% of Saudi Arabia's budget revenue.
Photograph by Emory Kristof, National Geographic

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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.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    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.

    geography Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    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.

    kingdom Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: kingdom
    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.

    petroleum Noun

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

    pilgrimage Noun

    spiritual journey or travel to a sacred place.

    port Noun

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

    Encyclopedic Entry: port
    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.