* Timed explosive device caused pipeline blast
* S. Korea’s KNOC operates targeted pipeline
* No casualties reported
(Adds field output stopped, rising smoke, paragraphs 4-5)
By Ju-min Park and Mohamed Sudam
SEOUL/SANAA, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Suspected al Qaeda militants blew up an oil pipeline run by Korea National Oil Corp (KNOC) [KOILC.UL] in south Yemen on Tuesday as the country hunted those behind a plot to mail bombs to the United States.
The explosion occurred early on Tuesday and caused a leak, the size of which was unclear, a KNOC spokesman told Reuters in Seoul. There were no casualties, he said, adding that he could not confirm the cause of the explosion.
The 204-km (127 mile) pipeline runs from an oilfield in Yemen’s Shabwa province that produces 10,000 barrels of oil per day, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
A local Yemeni official told Reuters production was suspended at the oilfield after the blast which had caused up to 5,000 barrels of crude oil to leak.
Television images showed flames and a huge plume of smoke rising from the pipeline.
The blast on the pipeline taking crude oil to a maritime export terminal was caused by a timed device, a local Yemeni security official told Reuters, adding members of al Qaeda were believed to be behind the attack. [ID:nLDE6A11NI] Yemen launched a major operation on Tuesday to arrest a Saudi bomb maker accused of being behind a foiled bomb plot involving U.S.-bound parcels.
Security forces were sent to the province of Maarib and also to Shabwa, where the targeted pipeline is located. [ID:nLDE6A10HT]
Al Qaeda has in the past threatened to target Yemen’s oil and gas infrastructure, but such attacks have been relatively rare. Disgruntled tribes have sporadically blown up pipelines to pressure the government of the impoverished Arab country.
Last month, a gunman believed to have links to al Qaeda killed a Frenchman at Austrian oil and gas company OMV’s (OMVV.VI) site in Sanaa.
“The pipeline is a 14-inch crude pipeline and comes from the Ayad field,” an industry source in Yemen said. “It’s about half the size of the biggest pipelines,” he added.
KNOC acquired the pipeline in May 2008, its spokesman said.
The Yemen wing of the global militant network, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has strongholds in Maarib and Shabwa, where oil and gas fields of international companies are located.
Militant attacks in Yemen could threaten its small but vital energy operations as well as having potential knock-on effects for the wider oil producing region if insurgents take advantage of the country’s instability.
Yemen is a small oil producer in a region of export giants such as neighbour and top exporter Saudi Arabia, so interruption of its 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) output would have little impact on international energy markets.
But Yemen relies on oil revenues for 70-75 percent of public revenue and more than 90 percent of export earnings. Any interruption to that income would put pressure on the budget of an already desperately poor country that says it needs billions of dollars of economic aid. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ FACTBOX on Yemen’s oil, gas industry: [ID:nLDE6040LS] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> (Additional reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden, and Erika Solomon, Raissa Kasolowsky and Firouz Sedarat in Dubai; editing by Sue Thomas and James Jukwey)