Iran Denies It Is Behind Drone Attacks On Oil Plants In Saudi Arabia

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This satellite image shows smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia.

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Planet Labs Inc./AP

This satellite image shows smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia.

Planet Labs Inc./AP

Updated at 3:53 p.m. ET

Iran says it is not behind Saturday’s drone attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia, denying accusations from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Tehran was responsible for “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said in a tweet on Sunday that Pompeo was turning from “max pressure” to “max deceit.”

Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are allied with Iran, have claimed responsibility for the attacks, and said 10 drones had targeted oil installations in Abqaiq and Khurais. Both are owned by state-owned Saudi Aramco.

Houthi Drone Strikes Disrupt Almost Half Of Saudi Oil Exports

Despite the Houthi claim, Pompeo on Saturday placed blame on Iran, accusing Zarif, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani of duplicity.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

Pompeo also said there was nothing to back the Houthi claim of responsibility. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s remarks came amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran following President Trump’s decision last year to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Under the 2015 agreement, Iran promised to restrict its nuclear program, but after the U.S. withdrew, Iran stopped fulfilling some of its commitments under the accord.

Roger Diwan, an energy expert at the IHS Markit consulting firm, says the damage to the plants is extensive and bigger than originally thought. Diwan says the two installations that came under attack account for about 5% of global oil supply.

Saudi Aramco says the attack has put production of half of the country’s daily oil output on hold.

“It’s a very large disruption now. It will take time to bring on the units that have not been hit, but we know also that a certain number of critical units have been hit,” Diwan says.

In the near term, he says, this won’t reduce the amount of oil available on the market, because there is large volume of oil in storage in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

In a statement on Sunday, the U.S. Department of Energy said it “stands ready to deploy resources from the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserves (SPRO) if necessary to offset any disruptions to oil markets as a result of this act of aggression.”

Diwan says while the amount of oil available on the market may remain plentiful now, the attacks will raise its price.

“I think the price will have to reflect the changed conditions, and to reflect first, that we’re going to be drawing down strategic inventory, second, that we’ve lost the spare capacity that the system had in Saudi Arabia,” Diwan said.

He added the attacks are forcing oil markets to rethink assumptions that oil supplies are abundant and safe, and “to price the risk that all Saudi, and actually all Middle Eastern oil facilities can be hit by third parties with these types of drones.”

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