A worker walks near a pile of sand at Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas drilling, in the Patagonian province of Neuquen, Argentina January 21, 2019. Picture taken January 21, 2019. REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN
A worker walks near a pile of sand at Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas drilling, in the Patagonian province of Neuquen, Argentina January 21, 2019. Picture taken January 21, 2019. REUTERS/AGUSTIN MARCARIAN

Singapore/London — Oil prices surged nearly 20% at one point on Monday, with Brent crude posting its biggest intraday gain since the Gulf War in 1991, after an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities at the weekend halved the kingdom’s production.

Prices came off their peaks after US President Donald Trump authorised the use of his country’s emergency stockpile to ensure stable supply.

Brent crude futures, the international benchmark, rose as much as 19.5% to $71.95 a barrel, the biggest intraday jump since January 14 1991. By 9.40am GMT, the contract was at $65.77, up $5.55 or 8.4%.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures climbed as much as 15.5% to $63.34, the biggest intraday percentage gain since June 22 1998. The contract was later at $59.54, up $4.69 or 7.88%.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and the attack on state-owned producer Saudi Aramco’s crude-processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais has cut output by 5.7-million barrels a day. The company has not given a timeline for the resumption of full output.

Two sources briefed on Aramco’s operations said a full return to normal production volumes “may take months”.

“To take out over 5% of global supply in a single strike — a volume exceeding cumulative non-Opec supply growth over 2014-2018 — is highly worrying,” UBS analysts said in a note.

“The departure of US National Security adviser John Bolton last week was interpreted by many as a reduction in political risk — this event may be significant magnitudes more consequential.”

Trump said he had approved the release of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve if needed in a quantity to be determined.

Trump also said the US was “locked and loaded” for a potential response to the attack.

Major importers of Saudi crude, such as India, China and Indonesia, will be the most vulnerable to the supply disruption.

Saudi oil exports will continue as normal this week as the kingdom taps into stocks from its large storage facilities, an industry source briefed on the developments told Reuters.

South Korea said it would consider releasing oil from its strategic reserves if circumstances worsened in the wake of Saturday’s attacks.

The attack on plants in the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, including the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility at Abqaiq, came from the direction of Iran, and cruise missiles may have been used, a US official said.

Risk premium

“Growing fears of a supply squeeze and heightened geopolitical tensions in the Middle East will add a risk premium for oil prices,” said Benjamin Lu, analyst at Singapore-based brokerage Phillip Futures.

Saudi Arabia is set to become a significant buyer of refined products after the attacks, consultancy Energy Aspects said.

Saudi Aramco is likely to buy significant quantities of gasoline, diesel and possibly fuel oil while cutting liquefied petroleum gas exports.

US gasoline futures rose as much as 12.9%, while US heating oil futures gained 10.8%. China’s Shanghai crude futures rose to their trading limit, gaining 8% at the open.

Reuters