Yet by 2030 it could even an importer - perhaps even shipping in supplies from the US, should the US shale adventure come good. What's changed, then?
Part of the problem, says Citigroup author Heidy Rehman, is that Saudi Arabia now consumes increasing amounts of its own production due to huge domestic increases in demand for electricity.
Here's what Rehman says: "Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer (11.1mbpd) [million barrels per day] & exporter (7.7mbpd). It also consumes 25% of its production. Energy consumption per capita exceeds that of most industrial nations."
Oil and its derivatives account for 50% of Saudi's electricity production, used mostly for residential use she adds. And peak power demand is growing by 8% a year. "Our analysis shows that if nothing changes Saudi may have no available oil for export by 2030."
Dash for gasPart of the problem too for the Saudis is, as in other parts of the Gulf, fuel and energy remains subsidised by Government. So they can either hike prices, which would not be popular, or risk higher inflation by racking up wages.
"We forecast that soon, the disparity between the shale gas costs and sales price will disappear," Sergei Komlev of Gazprom Export told energy information service Platts. "When it happens, it will make the US plans to become a major gas exporter economically unviable."
The Kingdom's staying powerYet there could be a day, say some, when much less of the world has to rely on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The controversial Canadian tar sands development could also tip the balance of power away from OPEC. And if oil prices rise, that will also spur exploration of alternatives.
Yet OPEC's cartel, over the years, has endured many threats. There's also increasingly environmental alarm about the techniques and safety threats - including water supply worries - from shale gas exploration and tar sands development.
OPEC's grip, for the time being, remains tight. But the balance of power - not to mention the geo-political changes of the Arab Spring - is shifting faster than the Saudis are comfortable with.