Fuel is produced in makeshift installations in mainly Arab villages. Photo: Carl Drott
RIMELAN, Syria - The oil industry in Rimelan, northeastern Syria, currently stands almost completely still. A few refineries have been constructed, but their output does not nearly cover the needs, causing local people to turn to makeshift production instead.
Melki Hanna, a Syriac Christian, is responsible for the oil extraction facilities in Rimelan. These facilities are now controlled by the autonomous Kurdish government of the Cizire canton, but Hanna and all other state employees still get their salaries from Damascus.
“The management outside of this region was not as big as many believe. We have enough people with expertise and experience to run this,” says Hanna.
Oil from Rimelan used to be pumped to the refineries in Homs and Baniyas, before the pipelines were destroyed by sabotage and fighting. Now, the oil silos in the Cizire region are long since full.
“Another problem is that we cannot repair the machinery when it breaks, as we cannot get any reserve parts here,” says Hanna.
Only 30 out of 1,350 oil wells are being exploited at the moment. The pre-war extraction capacity of 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day is now down to less than 10,000 barrels. Small but adequate refineries have been built to provide fuel for both civilian and military use, but they only have the capacity to handle 6,000 barrels per day.
Petrol from the refineries is sold in service stations at a fixed price of 30 Syrian pounds per liter, which is even lower than the pre-war fixed price set by the Syrian state. However, the fuel tanks in the service stations are nearly always empty. The demand goes far beyond the capacity of the refineries.
Lower-quality fuel is therefore being sold by local Arabs along the roadside. The current price for petrol stands at 65 Syrian pounds per liter, but last year it cost twice or even three times as much. It is said to damage the engine of the car, but there is no other option available.
The fuel is produced in makeshift installations in mainly Arab villages like Gir Hok and Ali Agha, close to Rimelan. The workers there fill up large metal containers with crude oil and heat them under an open fire. Eventually, layers of petrol and diesel emerge, which is poured into plastic bottles or cans.
The production process is thought to result in severe damage to the natural environment as well as to the health of the workers, who inhale the smoke and fumes all day, long with no other protection than a scarf wrapped around the face. There is also an ever-present risk of explosions.
Before May last year, fuel was being exported to the Kurdish regions in Syria from the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. Since then all cross-border trade has been stopped.