By Lowri Pitcher
During the early hours of Saturday 14 September, drone strikes targeting two of Saudi Arabia’s largest oil refineries are estimated to have disrupted approximately 5% of global oil production.
The Saudi Arabian oil ministry claimed that the attacks had disrupted the production of up to the equivalent of 5 million barrels a day, representing around half of the country’s output. Both refineries are owned by the state-owned company, Saudi Aramco, with one of the facilities, the Abqaiq facility, described as the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.
As a result of such a significant disruption, the petroleum market saw the highest price surge in three decades. The price of Brent crude (the international benchmark used in trading) rose by more than $12 a barrel, increasing the price to $71.95 a barrel.
The price later settled to approximately $66 a barrel, partially attributed to US President Donald Trump claiming that the US would release some of its oil reserves to deal with the disruption.
On Wednesday 18 it was announced that 50% of the oil supply affected by the attacks had been restored and that by the end of September, production would be above the levels seen before the attacks.
Shortly after the event, the Houthi rebels, an Iran-ally group currently fighting the Saudi forces in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Despite the Houthis seemingly claiming responsibility, US intelligence pointed towards Iran being culpable. An unnamed US official cited that the impact, seemingly coming from the north-west could not have been triggered from south-western Yemen. Thus implying that the attacks could have derived from the northern Gulf, Iraq or Iran.
Saudi Arabia is seemingly coming to the same conclusion, the Saudi defence ministry said that it had ‘material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack.” The ministry explained how 18 missiles that they had retrieved were fired from the North and were ‘unquestionably sponsored by Iran.” Where the actual missiles were fired from, remains unknown.
Mr Pompeo expressed his views on Twitter, writing: “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply…We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks.”
In response, the authorities in Tehran have denied such actions and President Rouhani of Iran labelled the attacks as a ‘reciprocal’ measure by the Yemeni people, due to the prolonged Saudi-led attacks in Yemen. The country has also stated that it would respond immediately if it was targeted as a result of the attacks.
UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, claimed that the incident is ‘a wanton violation of international law,’ and that the UK will ‘forge the widest and most effective response’ alongside its allies.
Both the EU and China have urged caution. Russia, meanwhile, has offered to sell arms to Saudi Arabia so that it can defend its facilities.
Mr Trump has announced that the US is ‘locked and loaded’ to react against the perpetrator, once Saudi and US authorities identify the perpetrator. Neither he did not rule out a diplomatic solution, claiming that he’d asked the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to ‘substantially increase’ sanctions against Iran and that “[Iran] want[s] to make a deal…At some point it will work out.”
It is likely that leaders will wait until there is unequivocal proof of the origin of the arms before announcing an official response.