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Saudi Arabia says it can’t be held responsible for oil shortages after Houthis attack energy facilities

The Iran-aligned Yemeni rebels have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition since 2015

Firefighters try to extinguish a blaze at an Aramco terminal in the southern Saudi town of Jazan on March 20 after Yemen's Houthi rebels struck the facility. (Saudi Press Agency/AP)
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BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia said it will not bear responsibility for any shortages in the global oil supply after Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck Saudi energy facilities in at least three cities over the weekend.

The official Saudi Press Agency carried a statement from an unnamed Foreign Ministry official that said the attacks by the Iran-aligned Houthis pose a danger to the global oil supply and will have “dire effects on the production, processing and refining sectors.”

“This will [affect] the kingdom’s production capacity and its ability to fulfill its commitments, which no doubt will threaten the safety and stability of energy supply to the global markets,” the statement said.

The statement asked the international community to stand “firmly” against the Houthis and prevent their “destructive attacks that pose a direct threat to the security of petroleum supplies in these highly sensitive circumstances that global energy markets are witnessing.”

The Houthi rebels took over Yemen’s capital in 2015, and a Saudi-led coalition launched a military intervention soon after that to restore the country’s internationally recognized government.

Washington has put pressure on Saudi Arabia to boost production, especially as prices surge in the wake of a U.S. ban on Russian oil imports in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Saudi leaders have grown frustrated with the United States, saying it is not doing enough to counter the Houthi threat.

Saudi Arabia’s ire grew after President Biden ended the Houthis’ designation as a terrorist group on humanitarian grounds. Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have been pushing for a reinstatement of the designation as Houthi missile attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia have expanded in the past months.

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On Monday afternoon, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the weekend attacks and said the United States “will continue to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory.”

“Houthi attacks have targeted infrastructure, schools, mosques, and workplaces,” Blinken said in a tweet. “These are attacks against civilians, and they must end.”

In January, the Houthis launched a broad attack on the UAE, calling it retaliation for the amped-up UAE intervention in Yemen as part of the Saudi-led coalition. In response, the coalition carried out a days-long airstrike campaign in Yemen. It struck a detention center and a telecommunications building, which knocked out Internet coverage across most of the country. The attacks killed at least 100 civilians, according to witnesses and humanitarian groups.

The Houthis’ barrage of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia over the weekend — most of the strikes occurred Sunday — struck a water desalination plant, an oil facility, a liquefied natural gas plant and a power station, Saudi state media reported. The attacks led to a temporary dip in production at one refinery, which was struck twice, but that drop was set to be balanced out by reserves, according to an unnamed Energy Ministry official quoted by state media.

The attacks occurred the same day that the state-controlled Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, promised it would boost oil production spending to meet rising global demand, in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Global spare capacity is around 2 million barrels a day, which is not significant enough to deal with these geopolitical events and what is happening in the market,” Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said in a media call, Reuters reported.

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When asked whether the kingdom would pump more oil to fill gaps left in the market by the Ukraine crisis, Nasser said it would pump “as long as we meet guidelines from the ministry with regards to levels of production.”

It is unclear whether the planned increase in production spending will go ahead after the attacks, which occurred after the Aramco call. Nasser, however, did address an attack in 2019 that temporarily cut Saudi Arabia’s production by half, saying the company had contingency plans in place that ensure another major attack would not disrupt supply, according to the Financial Times.

The benchmark oil price hovered above $110 a barrel on Monday; it peaked earlier this month at nearly $140.