Drone-enabled attacks against two major Saudi Arabia oil producers over the weekend have cut the country’s production in half.
As reported by the Financial Times, Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks, in which a coordinated set of drone strikes, made possible through ten unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), set fire to a major facility and nearby oilfield on Saturday morning.
The Abqaiq processing plant and Khurais oilfield were the targets. Estimates suggest at least 50 percent of standard production, roughly 5.7 million barrels a day, has been disrupted — but Saudi’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz said inventories can be utilized to keep supplies flowing for customers.
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US government officials blamed Iran directly. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”
Furthermore, Pompeo said, “We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks. The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
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Iran’s foreign ministry has denied the accusations.
During conflicts, attacks on targets of economic, political, and military importance are common. However, this situation highlights how relatively inexpensive technology can change the game for smaller groups.
According to the United Nations Security Council, Houthi rebels deploy small and medium-sized drones during their operations and may use these devices for anything from spying to dropping grenade-sized munitions.
The council says that drones cobbled together through the assembly of core components from abroad, including the Qasef-1, were restricted when it came to their use on the battlefield due to limited ranges.
However, a new UAV discovered in September last year dubbed the UAV-X is a more powerful variant suitable for both reconnaissance and attack roles due to improved range and endurance.
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In the aftermath of the drone strike, the price of oil has hit its highest point in four months, with Brent crude leaping 19 percent to $71.95 a barrel, according to the BBC. US President Trump has authorized the release of stock from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a move which may help stabilize the market.
“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” Trump added. “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 as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
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