Much of the attention concerning the crippling damage to Saudi Aramco facilities struck in last week's aerial attack ultimately blamed on "Iranian sponsorship" by US and Saudi officials has focused on Abqaiq processing plant, but on Friday the first on the ground images from the kingdom's giant Khurais oil field — the country's second largest — have been revealed, showing scorched infrastructure, ruptured pipelines, and "a mess of oil melted to asphalt, twisted and charred metal grates" according to an on site Bloomberg report.
And yet Aramco has remained insistent that the field will return to pre-attack output levels this month, after the company reported losing half its daily output in the aftermath of the early Saturday attacks, impacting a whopping 5% of total global supply.
Per Bloomberg, Khurais has a capacity of 1.45 million barrels a day, processing all oil on site; however the attack took out four 300-foot towers essential to the production process.
Like at the Abqaiq processing plant nearer the coast, the strikes — whether by drones or ballistic missiles (debris showed by the Saudi Defense Ministry this week featured both) — appeared remarkably precise.
The Saudis have counted a total of twenty-five drones and missiles used in the twin attacks, after statements by Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed ten drones were used.
CNBC: RT @CNBCi: Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil facility, was attacked in 18 different locations on Saturday, CNBC's @_HadleyGamble is on the ground at Saudi Aramco's facilities. https://t.co/vcgOhkE03m pic.twitter.com/qEJd6QZOtz— Paul M Smith BA Hons (@paulmsmith1975) September 20, 2019
Bloomberg reports of the recovery progress at Khurais:
The Khurais field and processing plant resumed 30% of production within 24 hours of the strike and will produce 1.2 million barrels a day by the end of September, Fahad Al Abdulkareem, general manager for Aramco’s southern area oil operations, said at a briefing on Friday. Workers are at the site 24 hours a day to speed the repairs, according to the company.
The precision nature of the strikes, which Washington has claimed can only point to Iranian involvement given the level of sophistication needed to conduct such an operation, is even more evident at the Abqaiq facility.
Given the sheer distance the drones would have to travel, whether from Yemen or possibly Iran, combined with 18 precision strikes on the 70-year old but state of the art Abqaiq facility, a number of analysts are questioning whether the operation had inside the kingdom help.
Bill Blain of Shard Capital is one of them, who notes "a number of my sources suggest things look increasingly questionable in the desert kingdom."
Looking at the photos of the Houthi drone strikes, the damage and the holes made in the gas tanks look suspiciously regular and well placed. MBS’s shakedown of his royal cousins and the nation’s business leaders stands alongside rising revulsion at his own spending. As defacto absolute ruler he feels above question, but domestic tensions are rising. More than a few analysts suspect the Houthis may have had inside assistance for a growing Saudi domestic insurgency.
"Trump and Kushner are going to struggle with that one.." he concluded.
Indeed, considering the kingdom's historically restive Shia community in the eastern part of the country would also avail itself to help any operation intent on striking sensitive state facilities, the possibilities are endless.