Houthi drones target Saudi oil plants, supply hit

Riyadh, September 14 

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Saturday attacked two plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, including the world’s biggest petroleum processing facility, in a strike that sources said had disrupted output and exports.

Two sources said 5 million barrels per day of crude production had been impacted — close to half of the kingdom's output or 5 per cent of global oil supply. The pre-dawn drone attack on the Saudi Aramco facilities set off several fires, although the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter, later said these were brought under control.

State television said exports were continuing but Aramco has yet to comment since the pre-dawn assault, which the Houthis said involved 10 drones. Authorities have not said whether oil production or exports were affected. 

The drone strikes on the world’s biggest oil exporter come as Saudi Aramco has accelerated plans for an initial public offering of the state oil giant to as early as this year, and follow earlier cross-border attacks on Saudi oil installations and on oil tankers in Gulf waters. Saturday’s attacks appeared to be the most brazen yet. Saudi Arabia, leading a Sunni Muslim military coalition 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.

Authorities have not reported on casualties. A Reuters witness nearby said at least 15 ambulances were seen in the area and there was a heavy security presence around Abqaiq — 60 km southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters. The oil processing plant handles crude from the world’s largest conventional oilfield, the supergiant Ghawar, 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 Embassy in Riyadh said it was unaware of any injuries to Americans from the attacks. “These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” the embassy quoted Ambassador John Abizaid as saying in a Twitter post.

The Saudi interior ministry said Aramco industrial security teams fighting the fires since 0400 had managed to control them and stop their spread. It did not identify the source of the drones but said an investigation was underway.

The Houthis’ military spokesman, without providing evidence, said the attacks hit refineries at both sites, which are over 1,000 km from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, and pledged a widening of assaults on Saudi Arabia.

Tensions in the region have escalated in recent months after the US quit an international nuclear deal and extended economic sanctions on Iran. The Houthis hit Shaybah oilfield last month and two oil pumping stations in May. Both attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production. — Reuters