Drones just attacked the world’s largest oil refinery

Fires burn at the Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia.
Fires burn at the Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia.
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Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for an armed drone attack early today (Sept. 14) on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq refinery, the world’s largest oil processing facility. The rebels also hit the Khurais oil field, a major site operated by Saudi Aramco. Both attacks sparked massive fires that could be seen from outer space.

A view from space of the fires at Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil refinery.
A view from space of the fires at Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil refinery.
Image: NASA Worldview via AP

The two locations make up crucial links in the world’s energy supply chain. Three sources told Reuters that the attacks disrupted oil production and export capacity, with one estimating reductions of about 5 million barrels of crude per day—roughly 50% of the kingdom’s output, and about 5% of global supply. There were no reports of casualties. The Saudi interior ministry said the fires at both locations had been contained.

Houthi armed forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Sare’e said in a televised statement that the attacks were legitimate responses to US-backed Saudi attacks, which Houthi-run media described as “war crimes.” Sare’e claimed the operation followed a successful intelligence operation, with additional help from unidentified collaborators within Saudi Arabia.

However, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo placed the blame for the attacks on Iran, not the Houthis.

Last month, a Houthi drone attack touched off a blaze at the kingdom’s Shaybah oil field, a site near the UAE border that produces about 1 million barrels of crude daily. In May, drones hit Saudi Arabia’s 750-mile East-West Pipeline, which links the country’s eastern production sites and the Red Sea. Initial reports linked that attack to Houthi rebels, but US intelligence later claimed the drones were launched from southern Iraq. The Iraqis strongly denied the charge.

Houthi attacks on Saudi targets will “expand and…be more painful” as long as the Saudi “aggression and siege continue,” Sare’e, the rebel spokesman, said.

The Houthis have control of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and since 2015 have been locked in fierce battle with a Saudi-led, US-backed coalition that is trying to reinstall a government administration recognized by the international community. Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the fighting since 2015, according to figures from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Today’s attacks occurred right as the kingdom prepares to take Saudi Aramco public with an initial public offering expected to be the largest ever.