Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities are costing China another $97 million a day as the largest customer of Saudi Arabia, and the world’s biggest crude oil importer.
The Sept. 14 attack by ten armed drones on state-owned Aramco’s Khurais oilfield was launched from over 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) away by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Huge fires were quickly brought under control, but the attacks slashed world supplies by about 5.7 million barrels a day. The Khurais oilfield produces one percent of the world’s oil and Abqaiq is the company’s largest oil-processing facility, with the capacity to refine 7 percent of the global supply.
China became the world’s largest oil importer in 2017 and imports hit a record 9.85 million barrels per day (bpd) in August, up 9.6 percent from the prior year. According to TankerTrackers.com, which monitors shipments based on satellite images and radio transponders, China imports rose from 921,811 bpd in August of 2018 to 1,802,788 bpd in July 2019. That equaled 25 percent of Saudi Arabia’s exports of 7.3 million bpd.
The crude oil international standard price referred to as “Brent Crude” jumped by 14 percent on Sept. 16 from $60.22 per barrel to about $68.07 per barrel. The Shanghai Futures Exchange quoted price for Brent Crude is trading at a $2.20 premium price of $70.27 per barrel, due to China’s heavy reliance on Saudi Arabian imports.
The National Interest commented that it is unclear if the attackers used drones or possibly cruise missiles to penetrate “what should have been some of the most well-defended—or at least the most secure—airspace in the world.”
The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based about 62 miles from Abqaiq in Bahrain and patrols the Persian Gulf. America also operates airbases and military facilities equipped with fully-integrated air defense systems featuring 93-mile radar ranges along the western Gulf stretching from Kuwait to the UAE. Saudi airspace is rated as especially well-defended by U.S. air-defense systems like the Patriot surface-to-air missile system.
General David Perkins, the commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command spoke at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Global Force Symposium in March and said that “a very close” U.S. ally used a $3.4 million Patriot missile to take down a $200 consumer drone. General Perkins called the move an uneconomic “overkill,” but that was before the latest attack.