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Global prices of crude oil have jumped shortly after major Saudi oil processing plants took several hits from drone attacks. Analysts believe that this attack will like cause serious issues in global crude oil circulation.
As a result of an attack on the oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia which destroyed around 5.7 million barrels of daily production, crude oil prices have surged and hit their highest point in 2019, since May. On Saturday, carefully planned drone attacks targeted the Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais, destroying at least 50% of the entire country’s produced oil. This represents a whopping 5% of global oil production.
For example, London’s Brent futures saw a surge by about $12 very shortly after it opened, signifying an almost 20% jump, the highest surge (in U.S. dollar) since inception more than thirty years ago in 1981. Even though it eventually did retreat by almost half of that, prices still sat at a three-year record. The ICE Futures Europe also recorded a 19% surge, hitting $71.95.
The U.S. markets experienced its own surge by about 10% in response to the incidence. The U.S. West Texas Intermediate jumped by 11.6% to trade at more than $61 per barrel. Futures, however, pulled back slightly, after President Donald Trump announced he had authorized that oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) of a “to-be-determined amount”, be used to return some sense of normalcy. Trump hoped that this would “keep the markets well-supplied”.
Saudi Aramco, which is the kingdom’s national oil company, is said to perpetually hold up to 40 days supply of oil, as a way to ensure that it always meets certain contractual commitments. Now according to the vice president Refining, Chemicals & Oil Markets at stockbroking firm Wood McKenzie, this one attack is likely to cause serious problems in the near future. According to Gelder:
“This attack has material implications for the oil market, as a loss of 5 million barrels per day of supplies from Saudi Arabia cannot be met for long by existing inventories and the limited spare capacity of the other OPEC+ group members.”
Bloomberg’s International Energy Agency has ranked the “biggest disruptions in history”, tagging this recent one the biggest. The only one that comes close is the incident during the Iranian Revolution between 1978 and 1979, which recorded about 5.6 million barrels in losses.
The Saudi government is already making plans to replace the lost produce but some analysts have noted that full capacity, especially considering needed repairs, would take weeks at the very minimum. This would significantly hamper Saudi Aramco’s ability to keep up with its contractual commitment.
The attack has however sparked up a conversation about how susceptible to attack the Saudi facilities (and possibly others) are. The global head of commodities research for Citigroup Inc., Ed Morse, has opined that regardless of how long it will take for production to resume at full capacity, the most “rational takeaway” from the attacks shows that “infrastructure is highly vulnerable to attack.”
As expected in a situation like this, fingers are already being pointed at possible culprits. Even though there is no definitive proof yet, the Trump administration has suggested that Iran was behind the attacks. The U.S. government released satellite images which, according to them, showed about 17 impact points headed from the North or Northwest, consistent with the position of Iraq or Iran. The government didn’t mention any names but a Trump tweet suggests that the administration is ready to strike back.
“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!”
Iran has since denied the attacks, dismissing the allegations from the U.S.