Drones hit 2 Saudi Aramco oil facilities, cause fires

World

Drone attacks have caused fires at two major facilities run by Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil giant.

Citing an interior ministry spokesperson, the official Saudi Press Agency said on Saturday the blazes at the facilities in Abqaiq - home to the company's largest oil processing plant - and Khurais was under control.

"At 4.00am (01:00 GMT) the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais as a result of ... drones," it said.

The ministry did not identify the source of the attack and said investigations were ongoing. It did not specify if there were any casualties or whether operations at the two facilities had been affected.

Online videos showed smoke rising above the company's facility in Abqaiq as what appeared to be gunfire could be heard in the background.
In recent months, Yemen's Houthi rebels have carried out a series of similar attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for a years-long bombing campaign by a Saudi-led military coalition on areas held by the Houthis.

The Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for Saturday's attacks, but their official media said it would release an "important statement" about a major drone operation in the kingdom.

Last month, an attack claimed by the Houthis sparked a fire at Aramco's Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility but no casualties were reported by the company.

Key facilities

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Dhahran in the kingdom's Eastern Province, 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 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.

'Major blow'

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.

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.

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