- Title: Iraqi oil workers battle to cap burning wells set ablaze by IS militants
- Date: 24th November 2016
- Summary: QAYYARA, SOUTH OF MOSUL, IRAQ (NOVEMBER 23, 2016) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF ENGINEERS FROM IRAQ'S NORTH OIL COMPANY (NOC) LOOKING AT FIRE RAGING FROM BURNING OILFIELD/BLACK SOME VARIOUS OF MAN DIRECTING WATER HOSE TOWARDS FIRE COMING FROM BURNING OIL FIELD ENGINEERS OF NOC AND FIREMEN NEAR BURNING OIL FIELD/THICK BLACK SMOKE COMING FROM FIRE OIL ENGINEERS THROWING EARTH ON FIRE TO EXTINGUISH IT MASKED FIREMAN/THICK BLACK SMOKE AND FIRE AT OIL FIELD BEHIND HIM RAGING FLAMES AND THICK BLACK SMOKE (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) NORTH OIL COMPANY ENGINEER HUSSEIN SALEH, SAYING: "Daesh used to steal and sell oil and when it gets enough, it burnt it, to deprive Iraq from it. There are states behind Daesh which want to harm Iraq and this is their chance." VARIOUS OF THICK BLACK FUME OF SMOKE COMING FROM BURNING OIL FIELDS BLACK SMOKE BILLOWING FROM BURNING OIL FIELDS/TATTERED AND BLACKENED IRAQ FLAG FLUTTERED NEARBY IRAQ FLAG FLUTTERED NEAR BURNING OIL FIELDS/SMOKE COVERING SKY BEHIND OIL ENGINEERS NEAR BURNING OIL FIELDS/THICK PLUME OF SMOKE (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) SABAH IBRAHIM ALI, WORKER FROM ANOTHER OIL-PRODUCING TOWN NORTHWEST OF MOSUL, SAYING: "If they (Islamic State militants) have blown up the wellhead, it would be difficult to extinguish. But if they had just turned on the valve and set on fire, we would close the valve and thus we extinguish the fire. Daesh (Islamic State) just put explosives on the wellheads and blew them up." CHILDREN SITTING ON PIPELINE/PLUMES OF THICK BLACK SMOKE COMING UP BEHIND BLACKENED HANDS AND FACE OF CHILD GROUP OF CHILDREN WITH BLACKENED FACES NEAR BURNING OIL FIELDS POSING FOR PICTURE CHILD WITH BLACKENED FACE AND HANDS SITTING NEAR BURNING OIL FIELDS BLACK SMOKE IN SKY/VEHICLES AND PEOPLE
- Embargoed: 9th December 2016 10:42
- Keywords: Islamic State Iraq Mosul Oil pollution North Oil Company
- Location: QAYYARA, SOUTH MOSUL, IRAQ
- City: QAYYARA, SOUTH MOSUL, IRAQ
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Conflicts/War/Peace,Military Conflicts
- Reuters ID: LVA00159SZTJB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:His white beard turned grey, face blackened and yellow helmet coated in soot, Hussein Saleh watched the oil fields of his hometown in northern Iraq burn, belching up thick black smoke that blotted out the sun.
Dozens of fellow workers and engineers from Iraq's North Oil Company, wearing dirty jackets and overalls with scarves wrapped around their faces or thin surgical masks, started up their water tankers and bulldozers for the day's work.
Their job: to extinguish and cap another crude oil well, putting out the burning black gold that Islamic State militants set ablaze when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces drove them out of Qayyara in August.
Hussein Saleh, 57, who has worked for the oil company for 30 years said that Islamic state used to steal and sell oil.
"When it gets enough, it burnt it, to deprive Iraq from it. There are states behind Daesh (Islamic State) which want to harm Iraq and this is their chance," he said.
The men work in large teams to reduce the blaze, contain the fire and then cap the well. Each fire can take days to put out, Saleh said. They said since October they have capped at least seven or eight wells with more than a dozen to go.
But the work has been dangerous. On top of how close they have to get to the fires and the potential for inhaling large amounts of toxic smoke, the area is still being cleared for Islamic State booby traps and landmines.
Qayyara's burning oil fields vividly depict the destruction the group wrought on northern Iraq, as Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition battle to drive the ultra-hardline group out of its stronghold of Mosul, nearly 60 kms (40 miles) north of the town.
Islamic State has made hundreds of millions of dollars through sale on the black market of oil from the fields it captured in Iraq and Syria when it took over swathes of both countries in 2014, according to U.S. government estimates.
It has suffered a near collapse in oil smuggling revenue, however, since losing control of a series of oil fields in 2015 and 2016.
In Qayyara, the job of cleaning up the mess has just begun, and is slow and challenging.
More than 150 people are working on one well, using water, earth to control and reduce the blaze. Earth is bulldozed over the burning oil surrounding the well so the team can get close enough to cap it.
Specialist engineers with experience putting out oil fires were brought in from the city of Kirkuk.
On Wednesday (November 23) they prepared to cap another well, spraying rancid water onto the fire that turned the black smoke white.
As they did so, an explosion rang out close to the well - a controlled detonation by Iraqi sappers of an Islamic State IED.
Sabah Ibrahim Ali, a worker brought in from another oil-producing town northwest of Mosul, said that the fire is hard to extinguish as IS had blown up the wellhead, that manages the flow of oil.
"If they had just turned on the valve and set on fire, we would close the valve and thus we extinguish the fire. Daesh (Islamic State) just put explosives on the wellheads and blew them up," Ali said.
Still, the men, some of whom haven't worked for two years because they lived in areas under Islamic State control, say they are happy to be receiving their wages again as state employees, plus danger money of around $50 a day.
Qayyara, with estimated reserves of 800 million barrels, had been producing 7,000 barrels per day of heavy crude before Islamic State seized the field and a nearby refinery with a 16,000 bpd capacity.
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