Repeated attacks on pipelines since the beginning of the political unrest in 2011 that culminated in the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh has cost Yemen more than USD4 billion in lost revenues, Petroleum and Minerals Minister Hisham Abdullah told the state news agency Saba on 2 July.
Abdullah said the country's main oil export pipeline to the Ras Issa terminal on the Red Sea has been out of operation since February 2011 due to "repeated attacks" by suspected militants and disgruntled tribesmen. The shutdown of the crucial oil pipeline, which usually transports some 150,000 barrels per day (b/d), has denied Yemen the bulk of its oil exports at a time when the government is facing severe budgetary shortfalls.
Operations at Yemen's main oil refinery in the southern port city of Aden were suspended in November 2011 after the pipeline supplying it was attacked. Abdullah said the government would respond "with force" against the perpetrators of the sabotage he said was "harming the national interest." The government has struggled to protect its vulnerable energy infrastructure, with pipelines and electricity pylons proving tempting targets for those attempting to strike against the state (seeYemen: 26 June 2012:). The erosion of state authority prompted by the political crisis that erupted in 2011 appears to have emboldened would-be attackers, who regularly attempt to thwart efforts to repair the damage they have caused.
This was evident on 4 July, when an engineering team tasked with fixing the oil pipeline in Serwah in Mareb Province were forced to halt work after they and several army troops assigned to protect them came under mortar fire, allegedly from Al Tuaiman tribesmen. The pipeline had previously been bombed three times by members of the Juhm tribe in response to increased military activity in the area.
Significance:It remains to be seen whether Yemen can solve its ongoing fuel shortage crisis while its pipeline and its main refinery in Aden remain closed, particularly as Saudi Arabia has recently shown no sign in extending fuel donations to its southern neighbour (seeYemen: 26 June 2012:). The Yemeni government is faced with severe budget shortfalls in core areas and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis as a result of the precipitous decline of the economy and thousands of internally displaced people caused by the 2011 political crisis. Financial aid pledged by the international community has been slow in arriving, amid concerns over corruption and misuse, leaving President Abdurabu Mansour Hadi's transitional administration in dire need of Yemen's relatively modest oil revenues. With the security situation still parlous in much of the country, the safeguarding of critical energy infrastructure will remain a challenge that the Yemeni security forces will be hard pressed to meet.
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(Originally published July 4, 2012, in Global Insight.)