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Iraqi refiners say pollution cost of U.N. sanctions is 'astronomical' (fwd)




 Iraqi refiners say pollution cost of U.N. sanctions is 'astronomical'   -

News & Observer. Copyright  1998 Nando.net Copyright  1998 Reuters News
Service

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BAIJI, Iraq (April 27, 1998 09:55 a.m. EDT) - Iraq's refiners say that their
oil refineries, hit by U.N. sanctions, are in dire need of equipment and
spare parts essential for processing industrial waste polluting the
environment.

"We have 600 cubic meters an hour of industrial waste from the production
units ... This is an astronomical figure," said Ali Hamid, Director General
of the 400,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) North Refineries Enterprise at Baiji.

"Where do you go with all this waste? ... This is pollution and it is very
dangerous," Hamid told reporters at the sprawling complex 138 miles north of
Baghdad, the largest of Iraq's three state-run oil refining enterprises.

"We need new spare parts and equipment. Whole units need to be renewed ...
This is the state of Iraqis now," he added.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed allowing Iraq to spend $300
million to repair its dilapidated oil industry, including $90 million for
the downstream refining sector.

 But Hamid said a report by oil experts used as the basis for Annan's plan
did not take account of pollution.  He said the experts who visited Iraq
last month to assess damage to the oil industry did not take into
consideration what he called the urgent need to stop environmental damage.

The team concentrated on Iraq's crude oil production and export ability to
meet an expanded U.N. "oil-for-food" deal, Hamid said.

All Iraqi refineries were hit during the 1990-91 Gulf War. All have been
rehabilitated using locally made materials, but essential units that were
completely destroyed are yet to be replaced.

"Six cruise missiles hit us all at the same time, hitting our complex
equipment. Then this was followed by ferocious aerial bombing which kept the
fires at the refinery raging for three months," Hamid said.

 He said before the U.N. sanctions imposed in 1990, four waste-processing
units at the Baiji complex isolated poisonous chemical by-products and dealt
with them by using waste-eating bacteria.

But they were knocked out in the war, leaving the only alternative to dump
the most hazardous waste into depleted wells, he said.

Improvising on chemical processing, a nine-mile canal was also dug to let
the sun's rays evaporate some of the waste, he said.

Air pollution from gases like hydrogen sulfide (H2S) also posed a threat to
the environment and rendered the refining complex dangerous for the workers.
"Sometimes here you can smell the H2S gas, which is poisonous," he said. "We
used to have units that controlled it."

Iraqi refiners argue that lack of spare parts and sufficient additives to
upgrade oil products due to the U.N. embargo has left the fuel produced by
their plants far below acceptable environmental standards.

 "Environment pollution is not our top priority now,"

"For Iraqi gasoline, the octane number used to be 92 now it is 81 ... For
lubricating oils for modern cars we're still below international
specifications," said a senior engineer at the country's second largest
refinery, the 100,000-bpd Doura refinery at the outskirts of Baghdad.

Like Baiji, the refinery was also heavily bombed in the Gulf War, including
direct hits by cruise missiles, but was rehabilitated within one year.

 Octane is a measure of the way fuel performs in an engine. The most widely
traded grade in Europe is 95 octane while the United States typically trades
87 and 92.

"The kerosene in Iraq used to be better than from neighboring Arab
countries," Doura general manager Kamil al-Fatli told Reuters.

Additives used now, such as tetraethyl lead, are poisonous when used for
domestic heating, he continued. Iraqi diesel was also way below European
specifications.

At Baiji, Hamid said damage to the complex's sulfur retrieval unit left fuel
oil with up to five percent sulfur content, way below acceptable standards.
But he said quality problems could be solved easily were the embargo to be
lifted.

"If the cracker works, we can produce the best types of gas oil of zero
sulfur content, but it was destroyed in the aggression (Gulf War)," he
added.

The cracking process in a refinery breaks feedstock down into heavier and
lighter types of fuel.

By Haitham Haddadin, Reuters  



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