With oil trading at more than $100 a barrel, Abu Dhabi holds a jackpot-winning ticket in the lottery of life. The emirate sits on reserves of nearly 100 billion barrels, about 9 per cent of the world’s proven supply. At today’s pumped-up price, its subterranean treasure is worth at least $10 trillion. That’s $10,000,000,000,000.Abu Dhabi finds almost nothing unaffordable. Were Croesus reborn tomorrow, he would discover that the Al Nahyan royal family could match his outlay. In recent years, hospitals, universities, hotels, museums, racetracks, golf courses, marinas, airports and a five-star airline have sprung up ex nihilo. When its naughty neighbour Dubai, which has very little oil, ran out of money, Abu Dhabi sent over $20 billion to fill the hole. In the 1960s, a British agent reported that Abu Dhabi was ‘just barasti huts, a broken down market… and a few buildings put up by the oil company.’ Today, it’s the Richie Rich of an energy-hungry planet. But here’s the really scary number. If Abu Dhabi could pump out all its oil in one go, and sell it without the price collapsing — in other words, pile up $10 trillion — that would still be dwarfed by the United States’s national debt. America owes more than $14 trillion, and its interest meter is running like Usain Bolt on speed. While President Obama is busy borrowing, printing and spending money his country doesn’t have, powerful forces in the Middle East are working out how to exploit the loss of diplomatic and military influence by Washington that is bound to follow a diminution of US economic clout.
The purpose of my trip to Abu Dhabi is to cover a media conference and broadcast a one-hour show for Sky News. It all looks promising — a rooftop location with a dazzling backdrop — until we go on air.