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Saudi Arabia announced Thursday that it is reviewing a sale of shares in its global energy colossus, Saudi Aramco.ALI JAREKJI/Reuters

Oil prices have already tumbled as Saudi Arabia led the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries away from protecting prices through production cuts.

If the kingdom proceeds with an initial public offering of its massive state oil company, Saudi Aramco, it may be difficult to return to its role as the world's oil-price cop. That would spell a whole new era for energy markets, one likely marked by low prices.

In an interview with the Economist published on Thursday, deputy crown prince Muhammad bin Salman said Saudi Arabia is reviewing a sale of shares in the global energy colossus and he is "enthusiastic" about the process.

A decision is expected in the next few months.

"I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco, and it is for the interest of more transparency, and to counter corruption, if any, that may be circling around Aramco," he is quoted as saying.

It is not known yet which parts of the business – which officials said is worth "trillions of dollars" – could be floated, and how much would be available to investors. The magazine said options include an IPO of downstream refining and petrochemical businesses, as well as listing shares in the parent company.

If it is the latter, the implications for energy and capital markets are huge, and not just because the privatization would come at or near the bottom of the market.

Saudi Aramco has proven reserves, it says, of 261.1 billion barrels. To put that in perspective, Canada's reserves total 173 billion barrels, with costly-to-produce oil sands accounting for the lion's share. At roughly 9.5 million barrels a day, the Saudi company produces around a 10th of the world's output.

However, Saudi Aramco's public financial details are virtually non-existent. Going public would require a level of disclosure that the 82-year-old company, nationalized in 1980, has never had to contemplate.

Once public shareholders have such details as revenues, earnings, production costs, overhead, well results and all of the other minutiae that investors take for granted, they will demand results in line with the likes of Exxon Mobil, PetroChina, Total and BP.

In addition, Saudi Arabia's traditional role in world oil markets as a swing producer – one that can turn the taps open or closed, depending on market conditions – would clash with shareholder interests. Indeed, energy investors favour profitable production gains as a matter of course.

For more than a year, crude prices have slumped as Saudi Arabia and its OPEC brethren moved to a stance of protecting market share rather than propping up prices by lowering quotas. The shift came as ministers chafed at being forced to adhere to production ceilings while U.S. shale producers and Canadian oil sands developers pumped increasing volumes.

It is not known if Saudi Arabia sees this as permanent, but several OPEC countries whose economies are being ravaged by dwindling revenues have argued for renewed discipline.

This week, crude prices fell sharply into the low $30s (U.S.) per barrel amid heightening tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, following the former's execution of 47 people, including a prominent Shia cleric, on terrorism charges

Market players fretted that the bad blood could wreck any prospect of alignment at the OPEC table when it comes to production and price policy.

If Saudi Aramco goes ahead with an IPO that encompasses its oil production operations, it only adds another competing interest to the volatile mix.

Given the many moving parts that have pushed crude prices into a slump, it's hard to come up with a scenario that involves a long-term recovery.