Monday :: Jun 19, 2006

Iraq's Growing Environmental Disaster


by Mary

An environmental disaster is brewing in the mountains north of Baghdad as the waste oil from the refining process has been dumped into mountain valleys and set on fire. The waste, which is a poor grade oil known as "black oil", now covers several mountain valleys and is creeping into the groundwater and moving towards the Tigris River where it will be slowly moved down through the most populous areas of Iraq and damaging the drinking water of millions of Iraqis.

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."

Iraqis have found that the waste is a huge problem with which to deal. It was once shipped to other more modern refineries in other countries, but because the oil industry in Iraq is so old and under such pressure from the insurgencey, someone came up with the plan of sequestering it in the valleys and trying to burn it off.

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.

One wonders if there had been more care is planning for the aftermath and a real investment in rebuilding the capital equipment in Iraq it might have led to a different and more prosperous end for the Iraqis. Instead, the billions of dollars of Iraqi funds simply disappeared under the corrupt agencies created by Paul Bremer who believed that unfettered market would make the right choices in where to invest. And the pressure to drill to create the funds to pay their way with old and decrepit equipment with little oversight has created an environmental nightmare that will further darken the Iraqis' future.

Mary :: 8:40 AM :: Comments (25) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!