King Salman has replaced the kingdom’s energy minister with one of his sons, naming Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman to one of the most important positions in the country, according to state media.
The new energy minister is an older half-brother, to Crown Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
The move was reported on Sunday by the official Saudi Press Agency, which cited a royal decree.
It comes at a time when oil prices have remained stubbornly below what is needed to keep up with government spending, with brent crude oil trading under $60 a barrel, well below the $80-$85 range that analysts say is needed to balance the Saudi budget.
The appointment is also the first time a Saudi prince from the ruling Al Saud family heads the key energy ministry.
Prince Abdulaziz has a lifetime of experience in energy. In his 20s, he became an adviser to the energy minister in 1985 before being named deputy oil minister in 1995, a position he held for nearly a decade.
He then served as assistant oil minister until 2017, when he was named minister of state for energy affairs. He holds degrees from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.
As a veteran of policy-making at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Prince Abdulaziz is not expected to change the kingdom’s oil policy, since he helped negotiate the current agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC countries to reduce global crude supply to support prices and balance the market, analysts say.
The new minister replaces Khalid al-Falih, who had been removed just days ago as board chairman of the state-owned ,oil giant Aramco as the company prepares for a much-touted initial public offering (IPO).
Al-Falih had also seen his portfolio diminished recently when mining and industry were removed from his purview and spun off into a new ministry.
His diminishing role had led to reports that he was out of favour with the crown prince, who is pushing to diversify the Saudi economy away from its dependence on oil revenue for survival.
It was widely speculated there was dissatisfaction with al-Falih within the top levels of government over the low price of oil ahead of the Aramco IPO – even as the kingdom has continued to cut output to balance global demand.
Also on Sunday, the king issued a royal decree removing the current deputy minister of energy, Abdulaziz al-Abdulkarim. He did not name a new deputy energy minister.
Saudi Arabia has had five oil ministers since 1960, and none of them has been a royal.
Riyadh has been pumping less than 10m barrels per day for most of 2019, below its OPEC output target.