Waves of drone bombers turn ‘vital’Saudi oil complex into a flaming ruin

Fire consumes the Saudi oil-processing plant vital to world energy supplies.

Fire consumes the Saudi oil-processing plant vital to world energy supplies. Photo: Oil News/Twitter

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group has attacked two Saudi Aramco plants, including the world’s biggest oil processing facility, sparking fires in the latest flare up of violence in the Gulf.

CNN reported the strikes disrupted about half of the kingdom’s oil capacity, or 5 per cent of the daily global oil supply.

A spokesman for the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen said it had deployed 10 drones in the attacks.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Tehran, calling it an “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” and disputing the   Houthi rebels’ claim of responsibility.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while [Iran’s president] Rouhani and [Iran’s foreign minister] Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo said in a tweet. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The drone strikes on the world’s biggest oil exporter come as state oil giant Saudi Aramco has accelerated plans for an initial public offering to as early as this year, and follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters.

CNN reported that five million barrels per day of crude production were impacted after fires raged at the sites.

The latest OPEC figures from August 2019 put the total Saudi production at 9.8 million barrels per day.

CNN quoted a Saudi source as saying that Aramco “hopes to have that capacity restored within days”.

Saudi Arabia, leading a coalition of Sunni Muslim countries that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis, has blamed regional rival Shi’ite Iran for previous attacks, which Tehran denies.

Riyadh accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, a charge denied by the group and Tehran.

The extent of damage from the drone strikes in Abqaiq and Khurais provinces remains unclear. Nine hours after the pre-dawn attacks, Aramco has issued no statement and the authorities have not reported on casualties.

Abqaiq is located 60km southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters. It contains the world’s largest oil processing plant, handling crude from the giant Ghawar field and for export to terminals Ras Tanura – the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility – and Juaymah. It also pumps westwards across the kingdom to Red Sea export terminals.

Khurais, 190 km further southwest, contains the country’s second largest oilfield.

The US envoy to Saudi Arabia condemned the attacks as “unacceptable”.

“The US strongly condemns today’s drone attacks against oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais,” the US mission quoted Ambassador John Abizaid as saying.

“These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost.”

-with AAP

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