Saudi Arabia (Rahnuma) Drone attacks set alight two major oil facilities run by the state-owned company Aramco in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, the state media reported.
The Saudi Press Agency said that the drones caused the fire at the refinery in the city of Abqaiq in the Kingdom’s oil-rich Eastern Province, which Aramco describes as the world’s largest oil processing plant, as well as the blaze at the Khurais oil field, around 150 km from Riyadh.
The agency did not specify the type of drones involved or name the alleged perpetrator. The fires at both sites are now under control and a probe has been launched into the alleged attacks, reported the state media.
Multiple videos posted on social media earlier on Saturday showed an Aramco compound engulfed in flames and thick black smoke billowing from the site. In some vidoes, several loud bangs resembling the sound of explosions can be heard in the background.
Houthi fighters were blamed for drone attacks on the Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility in August and on other oil facilities in May. The rebel movement is fighting the Yemeni government and a Saudi-led coalition.
Yemen has been at war since 2015, when President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee the capital Sanaa by the Houthis. Saudi Arabia backs Hadi and has led a coalition of regional countries against the rebels.
Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming and directing the Houthi rebels in Yemen to launch drone and rocket attacks across the kingdom’s border.
In recent months, the rebels have carried out a series of drone and missile attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities. In August, a Houthi-claimed attack sparked a fire at Aramco’s Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility but no casualties were reported by the company.
Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) southwest of Dhahran in the kingdom’s Eastern Province, as “the largest crude oil stabilisation plant in the world”.
The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transhipment points on the Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to seven million barrels of crude oil a day.
The plant has been targeted in the past – in February 2006, al-Qaeda-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex.
The Khurais complex is located about 160km (99 miles) from the capital, Riyadh. It has estimated reserves of more than 20bn barrels of oil, according to Aramco.
In a Twitter post on Saturday, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid said Washington “strongly” condemned the attacks on the two facilities.
“These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” he wrote.
There was no immediate effect 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.
Saudi state TV reported later on Saturday that the kingdom’s “oil exports are ongoing”, citing its own correspondent.
Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, who has examined the strategic importance of the oil giant in his documentary titled Saudi Aramco: The Company and the State, said the attack “is going to be a major blow for oil production”.
“Saudi Aramco is not an ordinary company. It is a company which runs the country,” he said from Doha.
“We don’t know how much of the facility has been damaged but this will bring down Saudi oil production to a fraction of what it is now. This will also have an impact on global oil production.”
The attacks come as Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading crude exporter, steps up preparations for a much-anticipated initial public offering of Aramco.
The company is ready for a two-stage stock market debut including an international listing “very soon”, its CEO Amin Nasser told reporters earlier this week.