An oil facility in the Kurdistan Region. File photo: Rudaw
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Fifty-seven oil refineries have been operating illegally in Duhok province for the past 13 years without an assessment of their fuel quality or their environmental impact, it has emerged. A decision three years ago to shut them down was never implemented.
Earlier this year, the local government again formed a committee and gave the refinery owners two month to close. The deadline expired at the end of February.
“The danger these refineries pose to the environment is increasing day by day because they operate outside environmental protection guidelines,” Mohammed Tahir, head of Duhok’s environment office, told Rudaw.
“According to our instructions, the product of these refineries should be taken to laboratories for examination. But their product, oil, gas, and petrol, are taken to petrol stations and the market and also used by generators without any examination,” he added.
These 57 refineries were established after 2006 and were never issued a license to operate. They “have even had impact on agriculture around Duhok and Mosul Dam,” Tahir said.
“Due to these refineries, five water wells in some villages near these refineries have stopped working because of the water being contaminated and the people of this area no longer benefit from the water,” he said.
The companies are known to be backed by high-level officials and businessmen.
“It appears these refineries have a powerful backer, which is why no one can take legal proceedings against them,” Tahir said.
Rizgar Sidqi, a member of the Fuel and Environment Committee at the Duhok Provincial Council, said they raised the danger posed by Kwashe refineries with the council three years ago.
The governor of Duhok ordered the closure of the refineries if they failed to implement and commit to environmental guidelines. None have agreed to the guidelines and none have been closed.
“The Duhok governor decided to form a committee in December 2018 to deal with the problem of these refineries,” Said Majid Saed Saleh, a representative for fuel affairs of the Duhok governor.
“The committee decided to close all but seven of them. The committee gave them a two-month deadline. The deadline expired and none were closed. That is why we have decided to take proceedings against them.”
Saleh said they are aware of the danger these refineries pose to air quality and the environment of Duhok. These refineries were built at a time when Duhok desperately needed fuel.
“Nearly 1,811 families depend on these refineries. They should find an alternative for them if they decide to close them,” the owner of one of the refineries said on condition of anonymity.
“We will close our refineries provided that the government compensates us. It is unacceptable to cut the source of living from 1,811 families at once.”
As the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its provinces continue to crack down on loopholes in its oil and gas sectors, in Sulaimani smugglers continue to take advantage of the strength of the value of the dinar to the toman.
Chamchamal security forces have arrested a band of thieves who were stealing oil and transporting it by tanker from the Chamchamal area to Iran.
Rudaw has learnt the band consisted of five Kurds.
“In recent days, security forces from Chamchamal arrested a band that was stealing and transporting oil illegally. They have now been referred to the court,” Ramk Ramazan, mayor of Chamchamal told Rudaw.
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has vowed to punish those found illegally smuggling or setting up illegitimate checkpoints.
More than 95 percent of revenues in the Kurdistan Region are dependent on oil. The KRG continues to have its oil sector audited and says it intends to abide by US sanctions on Iran as part of the federal entity of Iraq.
Reporting by Nasr Ali