"We're much more heavily involved with the Saudis than the other Aramco companies," says Mobil Corp. Chairman Rawleigh Warner. "That, along with the purchase of Marcor, is what distinguishes us from the rest of the industry. I don't mean to say that there aren't others out there trying to do the same thing, but we seem to be that much more ahead of them."
Among the seven big oil internationals, Mobil, by choice and strategy, cuts the mot distinctive figure.
Whether it is in its evolving relationship with the Saudis, or its hold diversification into retailing and packaging through the purchase of Marcor (Montgomery Ward and the Containers Corp. of America), or its careful cultivation of opinion leaders through its polemical advertising and its lavish patronage of cultural programming such as Masterpiece Theater, Mobil likes to stand out.
The third largest of the oil internationals, Mobil last year earned $1 billion on sales of $34.4 billion. As a result of diversification moves, about 20 percent of its revenues and a similar percentage of its profits came from one- oil and gas businesses in 1977. This includes a large chemicals division, where Mobil has a particularly good track record among the oil companies.
Traditionally known as the international with the shortest supplies of crude in the pre-embargo era, Mobil has moved since 1973 to cement long-term supply arrangements with Saudi Arabia where it long has played a role as the junior partner of the Aramco consortiume.
"We are spending a great deal of time and effort developing programs that are attractive to the Saudis," said Warner.
This includes a minority interest in the Saudi's government-controlled local marketing company, the construction of a lube refinery at Jeddah in which Mobil has a 30 percent share, assistance in quadrupling a nearby blending plant, and the management of the construction of a 750-mile, $1.2 billion pipeline from the east to the west coast of Saudi Arabia.
In addition, Mobil is talking to the Saudis about building a 250,000-barrel-a-day refinery for them at the western terminus of the pipeline, and also about constructing a large petrochemical complex.
"The reasons we are doing this it the Saudis have said to all of us in Aramco that those companies which are interested in developing the Saudi economy will have a better chance of securing some oil," Warner pointed out. "I don't think we'll get the oil at any especially attractive price, because they can sell it to anybody. But it comes down really to having access to oil."
"It's like buying an insurance policy," commented George Baker, an economist with Petroleum Analysis Ltd. "They would like to solidify an already long-standing relationship with the Saudis and, in the event of a crisis, they hope they will have preferred access to crude oil."
Warner, one of the most outspoken of the oil company chairman, said he detects a Saudi decision over the last few years not to expand their oil production capacity to the 14- to 15-million-barrel-a-day level by 1985 that many in the U.S. government expect to occur and hope will serve as the reserve tank for western energy needs.
"I think they'll only be at about 12 million barrels a day be then," said Warner. "I think that means - even if you visualize a slow rate of growth in demand - a coming tightening of supply sooner, and it means less of a central role for the Saudis. They aren't going to have to be as much of a factor as the sole supplier."
The Mobil chairman said that one of the reasons the Saudis are locating new refineries petrochemical plants in the western part of their country is as "a protection against almost any kind of a problem in the Persian Gulf area," including the potentially unstable situation in Iran.
"One has to be very worried about Iran," where Mobil also derives substantial quantities of crude oil under long-term special arrangements, said Warner.
Warner expressed surprise that the Saudi have not so far completed the takeover of Aramco, The Arabian-American Oil Co., whose other (and larger) partners are Exxon, Socal and Texaco.
Warner speculated that the hold-up in the completion of the agreement - which basically requires approval of the Saudi Council of Ministers and a signature to be effective - may go back to the assassination of King Faisal and to subsequent internal disagreements within the Saudi government.
Other oil industry officials concur that there are splits within the Saudi ruling ranks.
Mobil, meanwhile, has by no means put all of its eggs in the Saudi basket.
Since 1973, the company has had a singularly successful exploration program in the Gulf of Mexico which is expected to provide significant incremental U.S. natural gas production as well as some modest oil production. The company also is exploring in the Baltimore Canyon.
In the North Sea, Mobil is the largest private shareholder in the Statjord Field near Norway which should be producing more than 500,000 barrle sa day by 1982. It also has interests in production in the U.K. portion of the North Sea. And it has a significant natural gas project in the Arun Field in Indoesnia which produces gas to be liquified and carried in cyrogenic tankers to Japan.
Mobil also has been holding exploratory talks with the Peoples Republic of China.
On the domestic front, Mobil has gotten itself into some trouble in efforts to upgrade the profitability of its U.S. marketing operations. Independents say that the company has been giving preferential treatment on gasoline prices to its wholly owned stations.
Last week, a federal judge in New York extended a price-fixing and antitrust complaint filed against Mobil by an independent wholesale distributor of Mobil products to include all such jobbers.
Finally, there is Mobil's distinctive campaign to win the hearts and minds or at least a fair hearing from influential members of the public through its print ads and its cultural sponsorship. Warner admits that Mobil's tack has not necessarily pleased the other companies.
"I think there has been a certain amount of chatter at the top most levels in the industry against our positions because some of those people feel we are raising issues that shouldn't be raised," he said.
But he then pointed to a company-commissioned poll conducted in Washington that Warner said indicates the Mobil campaign has had an effect. "We are looked on much more favorably in 1978 than in 1973, and we are looked upon as the most thoughtful company and the one most willing to talk about the issues."