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Saudi Shooting Spurs Anxiety

Petrochemical firms may rethink projects after attack on Yanbu facility

by Alexander H. Tullo
May 10, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 19

Petrochemical firms may rethink projects after attack on Yanbu facility

Chemical engineering firm ABB Lummus is pulling 90 foreign workers from its Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, offices out of the country following a May 1 terrorist attack that left five employees and a Saudi police officer dead.

The attack occurred, according to ABB, at its facilities on the plant site of the Yanpet ethylene joint venture between ExxonMobil Chemical and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. ABB has been working on a $100 million upgrade of the petrochemical complex.

Four gunmen used identification badges to breach plant security, according to ABB. They then fired on the ABB compound with automatic weapons, and, according to published reports, fled the scene with a victim, who was tied to a car bumper and dragged.

ABB says it has never employed the gunmen and doesn't know how they acquired the identification badges.

Two of the employees killed were American, two were British, and one was Australian. Saudi security forces killed the gunmen.

All evacuated employees were working on the Yanpet upgrade, originally scheduled for completion in the fall but now on hold. The petrochemical plant, ExxonMobil says, is running normally.

ABB says 80 of its employees will continue to work, amid heightened security, on two projects on Saudi Arabia's east coast.

Mark Eramo, vice president of olefins for CMAI, a Houston-based petrochemical consultancy, says the incident will cause multinational petrochemical companies to reassess security risks associated with building petrochemical joint ventures in the sought-after Middle East. "The region has the attraction of low-cost feedstocks, but there are also the risks" of regional instability, he says.


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