Saudi oil chief says energy security imperiled by Houthi attacks

AP , Tuesday 29 Mar 2022

Saudi Arabia's oil chief said markets are going through a ``jittery period'' and reiterated Tuesday that the kingdom's ability to ensure energy security is no longer guaranteed.

Abdulaziz bin Salman
Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaks during the World Government Summit at the Dubai Expo 2020, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. AP

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said cross-border attacks have put to question ``our ability to supply the world with the necessary energy requirements.''

The attacks have been carried out by Yemen's rebel Houthis, who are supported by Iran.

``In the old days, we, along with our friends here in the UAE, worked on a collective effort to assure and ensure energy security. These pillars are no longer there,'' the minister said.

The Saudi energy minister spoke at the World Government Summit, an event sponsored by the government of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Oil prices, already at their highest in years, have shot up further amid attacks from the Houthis on Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest oil producer. Brent crude prices are trading above $110 a barrel, though have soared at times past $120.

The Houthis have used drones and missiles to target the kingdom's oil facilities, and have also attacked targets in the United Arab Emirates' capital of Abu Dhabi.

On Friday, they hit a Saudi oil products storage facility in the Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah, sending huge plumes of black smoke into the air that were visible from the vicinity of the Formula One race where practice laps were underway.

Saudi Arabia has expressed its frustrations in official statements, saying it will not bear any responsibility for shortages in oil supplies due to the attacks.

Crude oil prices have also been buoyed by a deal struck by leading producers, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, in an alliance known as OPEC+, which limited oil production to keep prices from crashing amid pandemic lockdowns in 2020.

The group has stuck to its cautious plan of releasing more barrels on a monthly basis as COVID-19 restrictions have eased, but critics of the plan say the Russian war in Ukraine is roiling markets and sending energy prices soaring for consumers at the pump.

The UAE's energy minister, Suhail al-Mazrouei, doubled-down on the OPEC+ alliance on Monday in remarks at an energy forum in Dubai.

Again on Tuesday, he and the Saudi energy minister stressed the importance of Russia's roughly 10 million barrels a day in crude output, saying it amounts to about 10% of global energy demand and insisting that politics in reference to Russia's invasion of Ukraine should be separated from energy policy.

The war in Yemen where a Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, has been battling the Houthis since 2015 has rattled these two Gulf Arab states, revealing the vulnerability of their oil facilities.

The largest attack claimed by the Houthis took place in late 2019 against a sprawling Saudi Aramco site in the kingdom's eastern region, temporarily knocking out production at the world's largest oil processing facility in Abqaiq.

Despite US condemnation of the Houthis and US-supplied anti-missile systems for Saudi Arabia, relations between the Biden administration and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remain tense. There has been no direct call between the two since the US president took office, though President Joe Biden has spoken to the prince's father, King Salman.

As the White House inches closer to a nuclear deal with Iran, the Biden administration has tried to reassure traditional Mideast allies of its commitment to their security. Israel and several Gulf Arab states remain fiercely opposed to any efforts that would lift sanctions on Iran.

``We have developed and delivered our side of the story,'' Prince Abdulaziz said, referring to the kingdom's position on the link between its national security and global energy market stability.

``People, others, need to deliver their own side of the commitment,`` he added. ``Otherwise, the very pillar of energy security will be disturbed, to say the least.``

This year, the World Government Summit is being held on the premises of Dubai Expo 2020, the six-month-long world's fair that concludes later this week.

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