Kuwait fears for oil installations in case of war

Jan 20, 2003 01:00 AM

As preparations for war intensify in the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is redoubling efforts to protect refineries and other centres of its lifeblood oil industry against an attack by neighbouring Iraq. Because Kuwait serves as the front-line host to US-led forces arrayed against Iraq, officials worry the Iraqis might try to retaliate against the emirate if another war erupts.
Iraq would want to target Kuwaiti morale and the economy, "and this would mean the oil of Kuwait," said Oil Minister Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah. Iraqi troops looted, blew up and burned much of the country's oil infrastructure during the 1991 Gulf War. They sabotaged more than 700 wells, setting oil fields ablaze for nine months, and even stole drilling derricks.

Senior Kuwaiti oil officials and executives say they have increased security patrols and evacuation drills at their most sensitive sites. The government also has secured a promise from several neighbours to supply Kuwait's customers in case an Iraqi attack disrupts its exports.
"If there is a war, and a chance of a threat to Kuwait, we'll immediately shut down and evacuate," said Ali al-Muhanna, head of production in northern Kuwait for the state-owned Kuwait Oil Co., which explores for oil and pumps it. Kuwait's worst fear is that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will arm his limited arsenal of missiles with chemical or biological warheads and launch them at oil-related targets in Kuwait.
"We are 100 % sure he has these two weapons," Sheik Ahmed said recently.

But even a well-aimed conventional missile could cripple the country. A missile attack against one of Kuwait's export terminals, for example, could impair the country's ability to ship crude, gasoline and other refined products.
The emirate's three refineries also make a tempting target. All were damaged when Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait for seven months from August 1990, and it took more than four years to rebuild them. If all three of its refineries were shut down, Kuwait would have no domestic sources of fuel and would forgo operating income of $ 1.8 mm a day due to missed production.
"They don't need to use a chemical weapon to really hurt us," said Asaad al Saad, general manager of the Mina Abdulla refinery.

Kuwait's insurance policy is a pact with its partners in the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and three smaller states have pledged to pump additional crude to make up for any shortfall Kuwait might suffer, said Sheik Ahmed.
Home to about 9 % of world's total oil reserves, Kuwait produces 1.8 mm bpd of crude and is a leading supplier to Japan and other Asian nations. Refinery chief al Saad estimates there is only a 20 % chance that Iraq will retaliate if a fresh war breaks out. "In any case, we have to be prepared," he said. "We think we are a potential target."

Al Saad's refinery now holds two evacuation drills every month -- twice the normal number -- and has ordered protective breathing masks for employees in case of a chemical or biological attack. Interior Ministry troops have increased patrols around oil fields to guard against sabotage. Although missiles could do little harm to the fields, an attack could inflict great damage on processing plants and gathering centres for pipelines, said Kuwait Oil Co. chairman Ahmed al-Arbeed.
All 26 of Kuwait's gathering centres were damaged or destroyed during the Gulf War. Their melted and rusting remains form macabre industrial junkyards, and hundreds of "oil lakes" created when crude spurted from damaged wells have left behind vast flats of hardened sludge.

Fire-fighters like Freddy Gebhardt of Houston-based Wild Well Control became heroes for dousing Kuwait's burning oil wells in 1991. "Everywhere you looked, there were little orange dots with black smoke behind them as far as you could see," Gebhardt recalled. "For the first 30 days, we didn't see the sun. The smoke completely covered the sky."
Sticky drops of crude rained down across Kuwait, covering even camels and dogs. "Like everything else, they just had this grey tint to them," the Houston native said. Antitank mines and other unexploded munitions made the fire fighting especially hazardous.

Iraq's 1990 invasion took Kuwait by surprise. This time, Kuwait is on guard -- and the fear is real.
Production chief al-Muhanna oversaw an evacuation drill near the Iraqi border in September, at an area containing three pipeline gathering centres and dozens of oil wells. Few of the 2,700 workers knew it was a drill, and they sped away to safety in a disorderly swarm of 400 vehicles.
"Panic?" he said. "I hope we can avoid it."

Source: AP Online
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