Saudi Aramco, golden egg hen and Achilles heel of Saudi Arabia

The September 14 raid, attributed to Tehran, recalls the fragility of the oil company, regularly targeted by enemies of the kingdom.

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On the Abqaïq site, September 14th.
On the Abqaïq site, September 14th. HAMAD I MOHAMMED / REUTERS

Saturday's attack on Saudi Aramco's oil facilities on Saturday (September 14th) reminded investors that the company, which holds 20% of the world's oil reserves, is as rich and efficient as it is vulnerable. The bombing of the Abqaïq factory and the Khourais extraction field is the most serious security challenge that the leadership of the major has faced since its emergence in the 1930s, under the US flag.

But before this dark day, the difficulties did not fail. At the beginning of the Second World War, in October 1940, Italian Air Force aircraft dropped some bombs on Bahrain's archipelago, a pioneer of oil extraction on the Arabian shores of the Gulf, and on Dhahran. The Saudi city of the east of the kingdom is home to the headquarters of the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (Casoc), which began extracting black gold from Saudi soil two years earlier.

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Spread over large open spaces, wells and factories have been prime targets since that time. The aim of the Italians is to hinder the fuel supply of the British Royal Navy, the declining tutelary power of the emirates of the coast. The plan works in part because, according to Ellen R. Wald, author of an Aramco story (Saudi, Inc. The Arabian Kingdom's Pursuit of Profit and Power, 2018 not translated), Casoc interrupts most of its production for the remainder of the war.

Huge profits

In the 1950s, the company, which was renamed Aramco (for Arabian American Oil Company), faced major strike action by its employees. In the decades that followed, the company became under the umbrella of the very quiet diplomacy then led by the kingdom. Gradually nationalized, Aramco is garnering huge profits, especially after the 1973 oil boom.

Trouble resumed in the mid-2000s, with the proliferation of Al-Qaida attacks in the kingdom. On May 31, 2004, a jihadist commando infiltrates Dhahran's expatriate residences, where it sows terror, for thirty-six hours, with strafing and slaughtering. "Already at that time, security was poor, remembers an expatriate. A dozen special forces were injured by jumping on a roof, from a helicopter that was flying too high. " In February 2006, an attack on the oil installations of Abqaïq, the same locality hit Saturday, is narrowly defeated. In 2012, Aramco's computer network was penetrated by Shamoon, a megavirus, considered to be Iran's response to cyber attacks on its nuclear industry.

With the diplomatic hardening of Saudi Arabia, driven by Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salman, the company is on the front line. "To manage its vulnerabilities, which are well known, Aramco has built a whole system that allows it to compensate the damage done to a site by increasing the production of another sitesays Ellen R. Wald. The return to normal should occur fairly quickly. "


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