It's become a burning question. When will Aramco's initial public offering take place? The company is the world's largest oil exporter and the crown jewel of Saudi Arabia's economy. Saudi officials want to sell up to 5% of the company and hope to raise $100 billion. That would make the IPO the largest in history, although there are doubts about whether the offering can raise that much. As one insider put it, Aramco is essentially a state within a state. It has its own schools, its own hospitals and even its own airport and aircraft. Something we discovered when we travelled almost 1,000 kilometres south to a major oil field. (NAT SOUND) (English) "We'd like to welcome you to Saudi Aramco Shaybah airstrip." One key factor in Aramco's valuation will be the price of oil. The cost of crude has more than doubled in the past year and a half as Saudi Arabia and Russia have led a deal to cut around 1.8 million barrels per day from global markets. In theory, higher prices should help Riyadh earn more money when it lists publicly. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NAWIED JABARKHYL, REUTERS REPORTER, SAYING: "According to sources, Aramco has around 270 billion barrels of proven oil reserves.
A lot of that is hidden away deep under the Arabian sands, like here in Shaybah.
This is a major oil field in a very remote part of the Empty Quarter desert, where a million barrels of crude is produced each day." The timing of Aramco's listing is also unclear. Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih has said in recent weeks that the IPO will "most likely" be delayed until 2019. Dr.
Sadad Al Husseini used to be Executive Vice President of Aramco and still has close ties to the firm. He believes the kingdom won't be rushed into pushing through an IPO. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR.
SADAD AL HUSSEINI, FORMER EXECUTIVE VP, ARAMCO "I think the listing is going to happen, there's no doubt that it has many advantages.
I don't think the timing is as sensitive as people assume because ultimately, it's the valuation that matters more than the timing." Sources say a domestic listing in Riyadh is becoming the priority for the kingdom's government. An international listing in one or more locations is still being reviewed, with London, New York and Hong Kong in the running. Wherever it decides to list, one thing's for sure; with over 70% of global energy demand still met by fossil fuels, a slice of Saudi Arabia's most prized asset is likely to have plenty of interested buyers.