Iran’s oil minister on Sunday ordered his country’s energy sector to be on high alert to the threat of “physical and cyber” attacks. Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said, “it is necessary for all companies and installations of the oil industry to be on full alert against physical and cyber threats.” This came after Washington, Riyadh, Berlin, London and Paris blame Iran for attacks that damaged the Saudi oil sector.
The September 14 blasts at the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities temporarily knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Abqaiq was struck 18 times while Khurais, 200 kilometres southwest, was hit four times in a raid sparking fires that took five hours to extinguish, Aramco officials said.
"Many critical areas of the (Abqaiq) plant were hit," an Aramco official said, declining to be named.
A stabilisation column, normally silver, had been charred black with a gaping hole blown in the shaft's base. A separator plant was also badly damaged in the raids and was surrounded by scaffolding.
"There are 112 shift workers here in normal times. Now 6,000 workers are involved in restoration work," said Aramco official Khaled al-Ghamdi, pointing at damaged infrastructure.
The site visits to both Khurais and Abqaiq gave rare access to the nerve centre of the world's largest oil producer, with Aramco flying in journalists to show the extent of damage and the ongoing clean-up.
Tehran denied any link to the strikes, which were claimed by Huthi rebels in Yemen. Iran supports the rebels against a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting the Huthis since 2015.
Following the attacks, US President Donald Trump said he was preparing a response. Several days later he endorsed military restraint, signalling his preference for intensifying a “maximum pressure” campaign through economic sanctions.
Iran denied press reports on September 21 that its oil installations were disrupted by a cyber attack.
Earlier, Trump while addressing the UNGA had already ruled out any possibility of easing economic pressure on Iran. Tensions between Iran and US ratcheted up after the Trump administration announced that it would unilaterally force all countries to stop buying Iran’s oil, which is its major export.