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June 3, 2023[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
BAGHDAD/Obelisk Hadath: Western oil companies are exacerbating water shortages and polluting Iraq as they race to profit from soaring oil prices after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Water scarcity has already displaced thousands and added instability, according to international experts, while Iraq is now considered the fifth most vulnerable country to climate crisis by the United Nations. In the oil-rich but extremely dry south, wetlands that once fed entire communities are now muddy channels.
Mahdi Mutair, 57, has been a fisherman all his life. For years, Mutair and his wife, awake at dusk, sailed along a dense network of canals at Al-Khora, a few kilometers north of Basra. The harvest was meager, but it was enough to provide food for a family of seven.
Western oil companies are exacerbating water shortages and polluting Iraq as they race to profit from high oil prices after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
That changed last year. And now at the height of the rainy season, a flying boat is stranded in the mud.
"It's the water station built by the Italian company. They need water for their oil fields," Mutair said, pointing to black smoke rising from the Zubair oil field on the horizon.
To help extract the oil, companies pump large amounts of water into the ground. For every barrel of oil, much of which is subsequently exported to Europe, up to three barrels of water are pumped into the ground. And with the rise in Iraqi oil exports, its waters have decreased dramatically.
The Italian company Mutir refers to the multinational oil and gas company Eni, which has been operating in Iraq since 2009. Satellite image analysis shows how over the past year a small dam was built, which Eni built to divert water from the Basra Canal into its canals. The water treatment plant prevents seasonal flooding of the area where Mutair used to fish.
Another nearby plant used by oil companies including BP and ExxonMobil accounts for 25% of daily water consumption in a region of about 5 million people.
The Qarmat Ali plant, five miles south of the Eni plant, is operated by the Rumaila Operating Organization (ROO), which is made up of BP, PetroChina and Iraq's Southern Oil Company. The water at the station comes directly from the Abdullah Canal, which redirects fresh water from a river before it reaches the Shatt al-Arab, the river formed from the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and Basra's main water source.
Eni said in a statement that the company did not use fresh water because the water from the canals is salty and polluted and therefore does not compete with other uses. But the Guardian has seen on the ground and in satellite imagery how water from the canals feeding Qarmat Ali and the under-construction Eni plant in Al-Khora merges a few kilometers south of the two plants into a public water treatment plant that provides 35% of the water used by households in Basra.
The impending water crisis in Iraq has been well documented. In 2012, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) stated that the country's water needs from oil would increase tenfold. Without the alternatives, he said, "the water would have to come from local aquifers, which would compete directly with agriculture and consumption needs."
Despite the warnings, not much was done. In 2018, an acute water crisis in the city left 118,000 people hospitalized and sparked violent protests. Protesters threw petrol bombs at government buildings and security forces allegedly responded with live ammunition, killing at least five people.
“The volume of water injection required is generally not huge, but in water-stressed areas it can cause problems,” said Robert Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy, an independent consulting firm, and author of a 2018 report on water injection in Iraq. dangerous.” . needs. "In Basra, which suffers from terrible water problems, the oil companies should in principle find alternatives to fresh water," he said.
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