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Oil Titans

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Oil Titans

National Oil Companies in the Middle East

Brookings Institution Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How national oil concerns in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Abu Dhabi and Algeria balance business and government interests.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Eye Opening
  • Overview


Don't look now, but five nationally owned oil companies (NOCs) control more than half the world's reserves of oil and natural gas. In today's media culture you might expect those firms to be under a constant microscope, but their operations tend to be cloaked in bureaucratic smoke. Valerie Marcel's book sheds valuable light on the way these companies operate and their red-tape constraints. While the book suffers from a rather colorless presentation, it more than compensates with insights into what the NOCs are and how they relate to the world's insatiable thirst for petroleum. getAbstract recommends this report to serious students of the global energy business.


In the Beginning...

Creating national oil companies gave oil-producing states the technical and organizational means to one day take over the world's oil resources. Today, just five national oil companies (Saudi Arabia's Aramco, the Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, the Iranian National Petrochemical Company, Sonatrach of Algeria and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) own half the world's reserves of oil and natural gas. Yet, very little is known about these countries, their oil companies, or their values, management strategies and objectives.

For those running these mammoth national oil companies (NOCs), history began – in a sense – after their countries freed themselves from control by foreign interests. These historical experiences continue to shape the cultures of these companies. The leaders of national oil companies typically are proud of what their countries have accomplished. An awareness of these firms' original historical context is important in trying to understand their role today. Their cultural characteristics include:

  • Managers who tend to be methodical and strive to avoid poor decisions.
  • Workplace structures that allow...

About the Authors

Valerie Marcel is a principal researcher at Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, a leading independent research organization. An expert on energy issues, she co-authored Iraq's Oil Tomorrow with associate research fellow John V. Mitchell.

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