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June 20, 2006

Iraq: Millions Of Barrels Dumped Disasters  Environment  Global Guerrillas  Iraq

So, how's that Iraqi reconstruction coming along? Check this out. NYT:

An environmental disaster is brewing in the heartland of Iraq's northern Sunni-led insurgency, where Iraqi officials say that in a desperate move to dispose of millions of barrels of an oil refinery byproduct called "black oil," the government pumped it into open mountain valleys and leaky reservoirs next to the Tigris River and set it on fire.

The resulting huge black bogs are threatening the river and the precious groundwater in the region, which is dotted with villages and crisscrossed by itinerant sheep herders, but also contains Iraq's great northern refinery complex at Baiji.

The fires are no longer burning, but the suffocating plumes of smoke they created carried as far as 40 miles downwind to Tikrit, the provincial capital that formed Saddam Hussein's base of power.

An Iraqi environmental engineer who has visited the dumping area described it as a kind of black swampland of oil-saturated terrain and large standing pools of oil stretching across several mountain valleys. The clouds of smoke, said the engineer, Ayad Younis, "were so heavy that they obstructed breathing and visibility in the area and represent a serious environmental danger." [...]

...He added that at least some of the black oil was already seeping into the river.

Exactly how far those pollutants will travel is unknown, but the Tigris passes through dozens of population centers from Baghdad to Basra. In the past, oil slicks created when insurgents struck oil pipelines in the Baiji area have traveled the entire length of the river.

As much as 40 percent of the petroleum processed at Iraq's damaged and outdated refineries pours forth as black oil, the heavy, viscous substance that used to be extensively exported to more efficient foreign operations for further refining. But the insurgency has stalled government-controlled exports by taking control of roadways and repeatedly hitting pipelines in the area, Iraqi and American officials have said.

So the backed-up black oil — known to the rest of the world as the lower grades of fuel oil — was sent along a short pipeline from Baiji and dumped in a mountainous area called Makhul.

A series of complaints handed up the Iraqi government chain were conveyed to oil industry officials, and as of last weekend the fires had at least temporarily stopped, but black oil was still being poured into the open valleys, according to Mr. Younis, who works in the province's Department of Environment and Health Safety. [...]

But with few options for disposing of Baiji's current production of black oil and so much at stake for the Iraqi economy, it is unclear whether the government will even be able to hold the line on the burning at Makhul. A United States official in Baghdad, speaking anonymously according to official procedure, said earlier this month that Baiji was still turning out about 90,000 barrels a day of refined products, which would yield about 36,000 barrels a day of black oil.

Iraq's refineries will grind to a halt if the black oil does not go somewhere. "Unless we find a way of dealing with the fuel oil, our factories will not work," said Shamkhi H. Faraj, director of economics and marketing at the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

The dumping and burning has embarrassed ministry officials and exposed major gaps in the American-designed reconstruction program, even as President Bush appeals to the international community for much more rebuilding money in the wake of his visit to Baghdad. [Emphasis added]

This is how a modern insurgency can bring a country to its knees: isolated, relatively low-risk actions by small teams that hit the country's economic infrastructure at key points where the effects cascade and are magnified manyfold. Blow up an oil pipeline here, sabotage a refinery there, and in the end, you've got the government dumping millions of barrels of heavy oil into valleys and reservoirs. The downward spiral feeds on itself.

Posted by Jonathan at June 20, 2006 11:17 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

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