Yemen tightens security at oil and gas facilities
Yemen has boosted security at oil and gas facilities to guard against militant attacks on the vital installations days after the government declared open war on al Qaeda.
Yemen, a small oil producer with output of around 300,000 barrels per day, vowed on Thursday to crack down on al Qaeda and a day later said six al Qaeda militants had been killed in an air strike in northern Yemen.
Security officials said new precautions at oil and gas facilities, implemented on Saturday, in-cluded sending extra security forces and police to guard them.
"The security measures have been strengthened for some time. But we took additional measures around oil institutions and the gas project in Shabwa," one government official said, adding the measures were put in place "in case of any terrorist attacks".
Yemen's Oil Minister Amir al-Aidarous said energy exports were progressing smoothly and that ports and a natural gas terminal were "well-protected".
"We have some small difficulties because most downstream and upstream oil industries are in areas... where there is poverty," he told Reuters. He confirmed the government was working to raise the number of soldiers at the facilities.
Yemen has come under heightened pressure to act against al Qaeda since an attempt to blow up a US-bound plane on December 25 by a Nigerian student with ties to Yemen.
Yemen, which also faces a northern Shi'ite insurgency and southern separatists, ramped up operations against the global militant network after a Yemen-based al Qaeda wing said it was behind the attempt.
The Yemen-based wing, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has strongholds in Yemen's eastern province of Hadramaut and the towns of Maarib and Shabwa, where oil and gas fields are located.
A $4.5 billion Total-led liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Yemen started production in October, with a 322-km pipeline linking gas fields in Maarib to the coast.
Other firms operating in Yemen include Norway's DNO, which produces roughly 19,000 barrels per day in Yemen. DNO said this month it was monitoring security in Yemen but had not stepped up protection of its oil fields.
Yemen, the poorest Arab country, is an oil producing minnow in a region of export giants such as neighbour and top exporter Saudi Arabia, so interruption of its oil output would have little impact on international energy markets.
But Yemen relies on oil revenues for 70-75 per cent of public revenue and over 90 per cent of export earnings. Any interruption would pressure the budget of an already impoverished country that says it needs billions of dollars of economic aid.
The local headquarters of several western oil companies are clustered in the capital, and residential areas that house western embassies and foreigners in Sanaa have been attacked before.
Yemen gained a reputation as an al Qaeda haven after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and came under the spotlight after crackdowns on the group in Pakistan and Afghanistan raised fears Yemen was becoming a training and recruiting centre for militants.
On Friday, Yemen said an air strike killed six al Qaeda militants in northern Yemen in an attack one analyst said would be a significant blow to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing.