A section of Iran’s sprawling Abadan oil refinery in the southwest of the country went up in flames Saturday, and state media sources reported the emergency was under control as of Sunday morning.
State media is describing it as “a fire in a canal carrying waste from Iran’s Abadan oil refinery,” with Iranian official broadcaster IRIB saying, “The refinery’s fire department contained the fire and prevented it from spreading to other units.”
— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) October 20, 2019
However, given the extent of the blaze captured in social media circulating videos, and especially given it comes after a tense summer of attacks on tanker and refineries — notably the Sept. 14 Saudi Aramco drone and missile attack — the newest Iran facility fire raises serious question.
Could the clearly massive Abadan blaze, which Iranian state sources appear ready to downplay, be the result of a Saudi revenge attack?
Though unverified and unconfirmed, Iranian opposition sources are pointing to a potential cyber attack as a possible cause for the fire.
#BREAKING: It is now confirmed that a Cyber attack resulted fire in #Abadan's Oil Refinery in Southwest of #Iran. Probably a Cyber attack in response to #IRGC's cruise missile attack at #Aramco's oil facilities in #Abqaiq & #Khurais, #SaudiArabia on 14 September 2019. pic.twitter.com/mkgs5LZXnq
— Babak Taghvaee – Μπάπακ Τακβαίε – بابک تقوایی (@BabakTaghvaee) October 20, 2019
Again, local authorities say it’s the result of an accident, and though yes the occasional oil refinery blaze does happen, it’s the fact that it comes after months of unprecedented Saudi-Iran (and allies) tit-for-tat targeting of tankers and energy resources that should raise some eyebrows.
The blaze is currently subject of intense speculation online after early reports cited an initial “explosion” at the facility.
Interestingly, the Abadan refinery has been subject of major foreign investment, with a Chinese firm Sinopec signing a $1.2 billion deal with Iran’s oil ministry for a major modernization project at the facility in 2016.
And earlier this year it was announced that “China’s Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration and Production Corporation has invested €2 billion in development projects in the refinery since 2017,” as initially cited by IRNA.
However, with new US sanctions now targeting major Chinese shipping firms and entities caught importing Iranian oil, Beijing has begun pulling out of major oil and gas infrastructure projects inside Iran.
The fire is currently said to be under control, per state sources, but a definitive cause is as yet still unclear.