Lower oil prices might not be the boon consumers hope for. That was the expert opinion given between bites of stuffed grape leaves and baklava last night at the Textile Museum opening of the show on traditional crafts of Saudi Arabia.
Donald E. Smiley, Exxon vice president and head of the Washington office, explained, "If oil prices go too low, we'll be back where we were, dependent on foreign countries for energy supplies. We regret that already some of our projects to expand American energy reserves have been put in mothballs because of cheap oil." And E.R. Cattarulla, Esso Middle East vice president, emphasizing the importance of the current oil negotiations--which seem to promise lower oil prices--added, "What happens in the current round of talks in Geneva could change our foreseeable future."
Saudi Arabian Ambassador Faisal Alhegelan and his wife Nuha greeted guests as they stood in front of a wooden camel heavily bedecked with Saudi crafts. "Our country believes that stable oil prices are the best for everyone and we hope to get others to agree in a meeting next month," the ambassador said.
Former ambassador Dean Brown, now head of the Middle East Institute, said, "It's the children who'll have to pay the price if Khomeini forces the prices of Iranian oil down too far. The shah realized that Iranian oil will run out in another generation; that's why he was so interested in nuclear power.
"The Saudis have good reserves and for the time being they could drop the price down to $3 a barrel. But when they have their new factories finished in a few years, they'll need their oil to produce gas to run their plants."
While the experts pontificated, one observer surveying the crowd, estimated at 2,000 people, said it was like trying to count the grains of sand in the desert. Energy Secretary Donald Hodel was seen frantically looking for the Saudi Ambassador.
Appropriately, there was a tent inside for part of the exhibit, and a tent outside to hold the people. Patricia Fiske, director of the museum, said the guests came from lists compiled by the Saudis, Exxon (which paid $10,000 to cover the show's installation) and the local oil experts. John Topham, a former oil engineer, who collected 80 percent of the exhibit and wrote the accompanying book, said he bought everything between 1977 and 1980. "I don't dare think what I paid for it," he said. Topham will conduct a walk-through of the show, open to the public, Saturday at 10:30 a.m.