In light of past acts of eco-terrorism by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Department of Defense has developed plans to extinguish oil well fires and to assess damage to oil facilities that might occur in Iraq in the event of hostilities.
Oil is a natural resource of Iraq that provides commerce, income for education and other needs, and infrastructure. The department considers destruction of that resource as an act of terrorism.
U.S. goals are to prevent damage in order to preserve the lifeblood of Iraq's economy and to prevent or mitigate environmental effects on Iraq and its neighbors.
A variety of sources lead the department to believe that the regime has both the capability and the intent to damage or destroy Iraq's oil fields, potentially causing a crisis for both Iraq's people and its neighbors. That assessment, coupled with the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime set afire more than 700 of Kuwait's oil wells in 1991, led the U.S. to plan for the possibility of oil well fires in Iraq should military action against the Iraqi regime become necessary.
Reliable reports indicate that these activities have been planned, and in some cases, may already have begun. Recent information revealed that Iraq has received 24 railroad boxcars full of pentolite explosives. While destruction of the fields would not be a militarily significant act, it will produce economic and environmental impacts with lasting effects on the people of Iraq, as well as Iraq's neighbors.
Economically, destruction of the oil fields could have enormous and lasting effects on Iraq's post-war economy. Iraq's oil is vitally important for the future of the Iraqi people. The department estimates the potential income to the Iraqi people from oil at $20 to $30 billion a year. That income today goes mainly to the regime and not to the Iraqi people because of Iraqi circumvention of the U.N. Oil for Food program.
For the future, it is critical to create that economic income for the Iraqi people in order to bring their standard of living back to one comparable to other nations in the region and to give them a viable economic future. Destruction of the oil fields would result in potential loss of $20 to $30 billion a year in oil revenues as well as an estimated cost of between $30 and $40 billion to recreate the infrastructure.
Environmentally, the U.S. estimates that the regime's likely actions have the potential to double the disastrous effects experienced in Kuwait in 1991. The destruction of oil wells by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait during the Gulf War had an impact twenty times larger than that of the Exxon Valdez disaster. In addition to setting fire to more than 700 of the oil fields in Kuwait, the regime released about five million barrels of oil into the Arabian Gulf. Even today, there are still environmental clean-up actions being taken. The threat at the time was not only to the environment but also to the numerous water desalinization plants along the Gulf. The long-term effects on the water tables in various countries are still being analyzed.
Today, it is estimated that in Kuwait, about 30 percent of its water is unusable, which is critical to such an arid country. The department has determined that up to 15 desalinization plants would be affected were Iraq to undertake such actions today, critically affecting many of Iraq's neighbors.
U.S. plans are first to prevent the destruction of Iraq's oil fields and second, if unable to prevent the destruction, to control and mitigate the damage quickly. The department has crafted strategies that will allow U.S. forces to secure and protect the oil fields as rapidly as possible in order to preserve them prior to destruction. U.S. military forces would be responsible for securing and protecting the oil sites, and under appropriate contractual arrangements, private sector companies would extinguish any fires and assess damage to oil facilities.
The department has a plan for dealing, on short notice, with oil well fires that might occur in Iraq. Brown & Root Services a division of Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., Houston developed the plan, which also addresses assessing damage to oil facilities, for the government.