More than half of Saudi Arabia's oil production remained shut down today as a stubborn, smoky fire continued to burn in a pipeline and pumping station complex of the Arabian-American Oil Co.
The sky was black over the Abqaiq oilfield, 40 miles south of Aramco headquarters here, as the remaining crude oil in the pipes and overflow dikes was allowed to burn itself out. Aramco spokesmen said, "All production in the area has been temporarily halted." That means, they said that the flow of oil from Abqaiq and from the world's largest oilfield, at Ghawar south of the point of the fire, has been shut down.
About 6 million barrels of Aramco's daily production of approximately 10.2 million barrels a day comes from the Abqaiq and Ghawar fields.
Saudi Arabia's oil exports will probably not be affected immediately, Aramco officials said, because production is continuing in other fields. Storage tanks contain enough oil for at least three days, and engineers are working to install new temporary pipelines from Ghawar before that runs out, they said.
"Engineers are already working on plans to bypass a large portion of the crude oil which normally passes through the affected area," an Aramco statement said. There was no reliable estimate of how long it would take to repair the fire-damaged facilities.
Aramco officials said the fire began when a pipeline ruptured near a major crude-oil pumping station in the Abqaiq progressing area, where, they said, oil from Abqaiq, Ghawar and some smaller fields is collected and processed for shipment by pipeline to tanker terminals at Ras Tanura. Several oil and gas pipelines were damaged, Aramco officials said, and others were shut down as a precautionary measure.
There have been several major industrial fires recently in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia and in neighboring Persian Gulf countries, but Aramco officials said they see no connection and have no reason to suspect sabotage.
While the company's statements sought to minimize the potential impact on the vital Saudi oil flow, Aramco executives said privately that the damage was major.
[In Japan, which depends heavily on Saudi oil for its energy supplies, stock prices dropped and the dollar rose in relation to the yen, the Associated Press reported.]
The flow of Saudi Oil is interrupted occasionally for two or three days at a time, usually because of bad weather at the tanker ports. The losses are usually made up by later production increases. The atmosphere at Aramco this morning was one of concern and anxiety, but not of panic.
The area of the fire was sealed off and most Aramco executives declined to comment on what was happening there. From the air all that could be seen was an enormous cloud of oily black smoke spreading across the glassy, blue desert sky.
Aramco officials said they could not give a full assessment of the damage until all the fires are put out, which they said should be late tonight.
A preliminary report showed that the fire started when a broken pipeline sprayed oil into one of the processing plants. The fire damaged three gas-separator tanks and several nearby pipelines as well. One man was killed and 13 others injured.
trovich, trade attache in the Soviet embassy here, said that the Soviets had offered to supply Iran with hydroelectric power from the Aras dam across the Soviet-Iranian border in exchange for the oil.
He did not say how much oil would be involved. The Soviets have been importing oil from Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Last month a Central Intelligence Agency report claimed that Soviet oil production would decline within a few years from its present 10 million barrels a day and the Soviet Union would face an energy crisis.