Syrian Oil Sector Suffers Disastrous Losses


          A man working at a makeshift oil refinery  site watches an improvised burner in Aleppo’s countryside on April 2, 2013.  Residents are refining crude oil to extract gasoline and kerosene due to supply  shortages. (photo by REUTERS/Giath Taha )
By:  Ziad Haydar Translated from           As-Safir (Lebanon).  
    اقرا  المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية
The Syrian oil minister’s interview  with Al-Thawra newspaper yesterday [April 3] was quietly  received, just as his predecessor’s was two years ago. Suleiman al-Abbas talked  about fuel prices, import policies, and petroleum processing. The minister also  alluded to additional catastrophes that could exacerbate the ongoing Syrian  tragedy, the consequences of which no one can predict.
Abbas explained that at least nine oil wells in the eastern sector had been set on fire as  a result of the state’s total absence. He also said that other wells in the same  sector were being plundered and their oil sold on the Turkish market, which has  become an outlet for stolen Syrian goods. This migration to Turkey started with  factories that were dismantled, transported in their entirety, and sold in bulk  or retail, and has gone all the way to grain storage depots emptied of their  strategic reserves. In addition, cotton crops, and now raw petroleum, have been  sold.
Abbas said that, in normal times, one well catching on fire was considered  “a national disaster.  What then would we say about nine wells being on fire, especially considering  that three of them are still burning, namely the al-Yamkan-105 well set ablaze  last March, and the Jazieh-115 and North East Omar-114 wells torched March  29.”
According to the oil minister, the vandalized wells are the “Tel Marmar  fields 1 and 3, Thuhban 134, Tayyaneh 107, Ghalban 105, Qahhar 109, Ghalban,  al-Yamkan, Jazieh, and North Omar. Control over five of them was restored, but  Qahhar 109, the most dangerous of these wells, was set ablaze Nov. 23, following  which a plan was put in place to bring the fire under control and secure the  well on Nov. 26, in preparation for it being capped. But its petroleum was  stolen and it was set on fire again on Dec. 24.”
Abbas pointed out that the wells burning out of control were not only an  economic disaster, but an environmental one. He said one negative implication of  the fires was the formation of water cones within the oil strata that would  negatively affect future exploitation and diminish output.
Abbas said estimating the amount of economic damage would be pure conjecture  because the wells can’t be physically inspected. But he alluded to a  catastrophic “initial loss to date equaling approximately 750,000 barrels, based  on previous tests conducted before the attacks, as well as on some assumptions  built upon field operations reports.” He added that losses would only multiply  as “indiscriminate attacks” continue.
Abbas said the amount of oil that was being taken out of the aforementioned  wells had been carefully calibrated “to guarantee the highest output and most  effective exploitation. This is completely contrary to the saboteurs’ tactic of  keeping the wells’ output valves wide open, resulting in double or triple the  output, in violation of the wells’ proper exploitation scheme.”
Media reports indicated that stolen oil was sold for a tenth of its  international market value to smugglers and Turkish dealers, who were operating  in cooperation with the region’s inhabitants and armed factions controlling the  wells. Two main oil fields fell victim to sabotage in the northeastern region,  while information was not accurate enough to judge the condition of a third  field situated in the wasteland outside Tadmur (Palmyra).
The Syrian Ministry of Petroleum had talked about losses in the sector exceeding $3 billion in the past  two years, despite independent estimates putting the losses at $4 billion,  especially considering that Syria was forced to import from the black market as  a result of the European embargo. The country also has been unable to export its  oil. In addition, many oil wells have been out of commission, while others have  been looted. The concern is that, as time passes, the intensifying damage  suffered by the petroleum sector might become an economic “black hole” as this  source of a quarter of the Syrian treasury’s income mutates into an  environmental and economic burden as a result of looting and the possible total  collapse of the sector’s infrastructure.

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