The heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry remained wrapped in scaffolding Friday as workers sought to repair the charred innards and shrapnel-blasted arteries caused by drone-and-cruise-missile attacks that raised tensions between the US and Iran.
Saudi officials brought journalists to the kingdom’s crucial Abqaiq oil processing facility, described by the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.” It was the first such trip for outsiders to see the damage done to its facilities that have been targeted in a summer-long campaign of attacks.
Saudi Arabia is seeking to build international consensus ahead of the UN General Assembly next week after the September 14 attack that it claims was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.”
In Abqaiq, an oil facility in the Arabian Peninsula’s sprawling Empty Quarter desert, journalists saw what previously only had been glimpsed in satellite photos released earlier by the US.
The attack punched holes in giant metal onion-shaped structures that help separate gas from crude oil. Separation towers there, which process crude oil, were scorched and damaged, with the top of one looking like a melted candle.
Officials said they put out about 10 large fires at the site less than seven hours after the attack. There were at least 18 direct hits on 11 of the spherical structures, five column stabilizers and two small processing facilities, they said.
Abqaiq processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, and it is transported to 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 September 14 attack reached deep inside a facility that analysts long warned was vulnerable, knocking out half of the kingdom’s oil production and spiking crude prices this week by a percentage unseen since the 1991 Gulf War.
Saudi Arabia also flew journalists to its Khurais oil field to see damage done to the oil field, which is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. Officials there said 110 contractors evacuated the site after the attack, but there were no injuries. They said the oil field was back online within 24 hours of the attack.
An oil stabilization tower was damaged and other pipes had holes from the attack.
Repair crews swarmed both sites beneath large cranes, working through the heat. Saudi Arabia says it already has restored half of the cut production and hopes to have it fully online by the end of the month, although damage at several structures seen by journalists looked severe.
While Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the assault, analysts say the missiles used wouldn’t have enough range to reach the site from the impoverished nation. The missiles and drones used resembled Iranian-made weapons, although analysts say more study is needed to definitively link them to Iran.
On Friday night, the head of the Houthis’ supreme political council said they are halting all drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and are awaiting a “positive response” from the kingdom. 🙂
“If the Americans think of a conspiracy, the Iranian nation will respond to them from the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Indian Ocean,” said Iranian Gen. Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.