Drone Attack Knocks Out Half of Saudi Arabia’s Oil Supply, Pompeo Names Iran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oil field on Sept. 14, sparking huge fires and halting about half of the supplies from the world’s largest exporter of oil.

The attacks were the latest of many drone assaults on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in recent weeks and the most damaging. They raise concerns about global oil supply and will likely further increase tensions in the Persian Gulf that has already been challenged by recent destabilizing actions.

The attacks resulted in “the temporary suspension of production operations” at the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The fires “were controlled,” the statement said, and no workers were injured.

The fires led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels in crude supplies, according to the statement, which said part of that would be offset with stockpiles. The statement said Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, would provide updated information in the next 48 hours.

The Iranian-backed Houthis, who hold Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and other territory in the Arab world’s poorest country, took responsibility for the attacks in the war against a Saudi-led coalition that has fought since 2015 to reinstate the internationally recognized Yemeni government. The U.S. blamed Iran, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeting, “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

“Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo added.

In a short address aired by the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones after receiving “intelligence” support from those inside the kingdom. He warned that attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.

Houthi rebels have been using drones in attacks since the start of the Saudi-led war. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones. Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up. Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the U.N., the West and Gulf Arab nations say Tehran does.

U.N. investigators said the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone likely has a range of up to 930 miles (1,500 kilometers). That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in range.

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on Sept. 14, 2019. (Reuters)

First word of Saturday’s assault came in online videos of giant fires at the Abqaiq facility, some 205 miles (330 kilometers) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Machine-gun fire could be heard in several clips alongside the day’s first Muslim call to prayers, suggesting security forces tried to bring down the drones just before dawn. In daylight, Saudi state television aired a segment with its local correspondent near a police checkpoint, a thick plume of smoke visible behind him.

President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to offer his support for the kingdom’s defense, the White House said. The crown prince assured Trump that Saudi Arabia is “willing and able to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression,” according to a news release from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.”

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then transports it onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea or to refineries for local production. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. By comparison, Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels of crude oil a day in July.

The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, on Sept.14, 2019. (Stringer/Reuters)

By Jon Bambrell

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Author: The Associated Press

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