Global oil prices are set to rise sharply after Saturday's attacks on two Saudi Arabian oil refineries cut the country's oil production by more than half, energy analysts have predicted.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels, fighting against a Saudi-led coalition in neighboring Yemen, claimed responsibility for "a large-scale operation involving 10 drones" against the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities run by the Saudi state-owned oil company, Aramco.
"Any attack on Saudi Arabia is sure to shake oil markets because they currently hold the majority of spare crude production capacity," warned Bernadette Johnson, vice president of market intelligence at energy analysts Enverus.
She said if the production cut was prolonged, "we should expect to see a big jump in price until the fields return."
The financial channel CNBC cited several energy analysts as saying that oil prices could immediately spike by $5-$10 when markets reopen on Sunday night (US time), while other commentators predicted $100 (€90) per barrel of oil. On Friday, Brent crude traded at $60.22 a barrel.
Saturday's attacks caused no casualties but forced a suspension of production at the two plants, where extensive damage was reported from huge explosions triggered by the unmanned aircraft.
Oil shortfall to hurt
The production halt means the world's biggest crude exporter has cut oil output by 5.7 million barrels and gas production by an estimated 2 billion cubic feet (56.6 million cubic meters) per day.
"Abqaiq is perhaps the most critical facility in the world for oil supply," warned Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at New York's Columbia University.
He also predicted a jump in oil prices in response to the attacks and said that if the disruption was prolonged, several countries would likely need to tap their emergency oil reserves.
However, the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) played down the impact of the production cut, which equals 5% of global oil supply.
"For now, markets are supplied with ample commercial stocks," the IEA said in a statement on Saturday.
Aramco said it would take 48 hours to give an accurate assessment of when production could be restored.
Riyadh and Washington quickly blamed Iran for the drone strikes, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted there was no evidence the attacks were launched from Yemen.
Washington's chief diplomat labeled the incidents as an "unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply."
His condemnation threw doubt on expectations of a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations assembly, which was hoped to calm spiraling tensions between the archfoes in recent months.
Riyadh vows response
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad emphasized the country's "willingness and strength to thwart such a terrorist aggression and deal with its consequences," according to a statement carried by state news agencies.
Read more: 'The war in Yemen has destroyed us'
Yemen's Houthi rebels have carried out a spate of cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for a long-running Riyadh-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.
Last month, an attack claimed by Houthi rebels sparked a fire at Aramco's Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility.
Rebel drones also targeted two oil pumping stations on Saudi Arabia's key east-west pipeline in May, shutting it down for several days.
mm/rc (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)