On 13 September, the 7M b/d crude oil processing plant at Abqaiq was attacked by drones and set ablaze. The fire is now under control but set off a crude oil spike and a hunt for the saboteurs
The plant is part of a 250-hectare compound that is heavily guarded after several earlier attacks using car bombs. The plant specialises in removing sulphides from sour crude oil to produce sweet crude oil for further processing. The facility is part of the Khurais oil field which produces about 1.5M barrels of crude a day and is estimated to hold up to 20Bn barrels of oil.
The Saudi Arabian interior ministry reported that up to 10 drones attacked the plant during the 4 am Islamic call to prayers. Guards at the plant attempted to bring down the drones with machine gun fire. Immediately after the attacks, Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility. This group had launched earlier air drone attacks on Saudi Arabian facilities, and claimed this was in retaliation for Saudi Arabian-led coalition attacks on Houthi positions in Yemen. The Houthi alliance is widely regarded as a proxy force of Yemen neighbour Iran.
As soon as the markets opened after the attack the price of Brent crude oil increased 19% to US$66.18/barrel.
Over the weekend the US Government issued statements that the attack must have been the work of Iran citing: the direction the drones flew, the distance (Houthi positions are nearly 800 km away) and the use of cruise missiles. President Trump tweeted “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed.”
Meanwhile the Houthis alliance has promised more attacks.
Considering the other events from the ongoing conflict, and the long-term planning by Iran, it is likely that this is an attrition stage in the Tanker War. There is no point in sending tankers into the Gulf if there is no crude oil to load due to the facilities having been damaged by drones and cruise missiles.