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Operation Deterrent Balance 2. Drone attacks trigger huge fires at Saudi Aramco oil facilities, Houthis claim responsibility.

Houthi rebels in Yemen say they deployed 10 armed drones which hit two large Saudi Aramco oil facilities on Saturday morning, causing massive fires and huge clouds of smoke on the sites.

The drones targeted a refinery in the city of Abqaiq in the kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province, which state-run giant Aramco describes as the world’s largest oil processing plant, and a refinery at the vast Khurais oil field, around 150km from Riyadh.

Multiple videos posted on social media show an Aramco compound engulfed in flames and thick black smoke billowing from the site. In some footage, loud bangs resembling the sound of explosions can be heard in the background, along with apparent sounds of gunfire.

In a large-scale operation, ten suicide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of the Houthis attacked early on September 14 two strategic oil facilities in the eastern Saudi areas of Buqayq and Khurais.

In an official statement, a spokesman for the Yemeni group said that the attack, dubbed Operation Deterrent Balance 2, was a response to the Saudi-led coalition siege and airstrikes on Yemen.

“Operation Deterrent Balance 2 came after a careful intelligence operation and prior monitoring and cooperation from honorable and free people within Saudi Arabia,” Brig. Gen. Yahya Sari said in the statement, warning that “future operations will expand further and be more painful.”

Buqayq and Khurais facilities, both run by Saudi Aramco, are located more than 1,100km away from Houthi-held areas in northwestern Yemen. The Yemeni group likely used its long-range Samad-3 UAVs in the attack.

Several satellite images confirmed that the Houthis’ attack caused several large fires in Buqayq and Khurais facilities.

Last month, the Houthis targeted the Shaybah super-giant oil field in southeastern Saudi Arabia in what was called Operation Deterrent Balance 1. The oil field was struck, but the damage was very limited.

These attacks demonstrate the Houthis’ ability to strike any strategic target anywhere inside Saudi Arabia. Facing this growing threat, the oil rich Kingdom may opt to de-escalate its war on Yemen, similar to what the UAE have done.

Saudi Arabia’s oil production and exports were disrupted after the Houthis’ attack on two oil facilities in the Kingdom’s eastern region, the Reuters news agency reported on September 14, citing three sources familiar with the matter.

One of the sources told Reuters that the attack has impacted 5 million barrels per day of oil production, almost a half of Saudi Arabia’s current output.

Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, did not immediately respond to questions from The Associated Press. The kingdom hopes soon to offer a sliver of the company in an initial public offering.

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 later transports onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day.

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 across the world. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

Buqyaq is some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged. The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s crucial East-West Pipeline in May as tensions heightened between Iran and the US. In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day near its border with the United Arab Emirates.

UN investigators said the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).

That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in range.

Late on September 14, Mohamad Bin Khalid, a Saudi military photographer, released several photos revealing that the Houthis used at least one cruise missile in the recent attack on Saudi oil facilities in Buqayq and Khurais.

The photos shows the remains of a cruise missile that appears to be identical to the Houthis’ Quds cruise missile. The Yemeni group showcased the cruise missile for the first time during the Martyr Saleh al-Samad Exhibition, last July.

Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, Saudi Aramco, is reckoned to be the world’s most valuable company with an estimated value of $2 trillion.

Saudi Aramco says it now produces one out of every eight barrels of oil in the world, or about 12% of global production, more than any other single producer.

At 261 billion barrels, Saudi Aramco’s stated hydrocarbon reserves are more than ten times those of ExxonMobil, the largest private oil company. It also pumps more oil than the whole of America, about 10.2m barrels a day (b/d), making it also one of the world’s lowest-cost oil producers, argues The Economist.

Key facts and figures

  • Crude oil and condensate reserves (billions of barrels): 261.1
     Revenue: $455 billion
  • Gas reserves (associated and non-associated) (trillions of standard cubic feet): 297.6
  • Crude oil production (annual/billions of barrels): 3.7; (daily/millions of barrels): 10.2
  • Crude oil exports (millions of barrels): 2,603
  •  65,266 total workforce
  • President and CEO – Amin H. Nasser