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Here are the best ways to disable an ISIL oilfield

Kuwaiti firefighters secure a burning oil well in the Rumaila oilfields, March 27, 2003, set ablaze by Iraqi military forces. Efforts are underway to extinguish fires and protect the region from environmental disaster.
Reuters/U.S. Marine Corps/Mary Rose Xenikakis
What you don’t want.
By Steve LeVine
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

A report says that US-led forces are finally striking the nerve center of ISIL—its oilfields—after hitting small mobile refineries the past couple of days. But how do you disable the fields entirely without igniting huge fires and black clouds of burning oil? At least three fields have been hit, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a usually reliable monitoring group.

As Quartz reported Sept. 23, oilfields are an ideal target if you are seeking to undermine the terrorist group—also known as ISIS or the Islamic State—whose primary source of income is said to be oil sales, accounting for an estimated $1 million to $3 million a day in revenue. On Sept. 24, the US and its Arab allies struck several ISIL refineries.

The refineries hit were small—they process a maximum of 500 barrels of oil a day. They can be easily replaced—and even if they are not, ISIL can and does sell unprocessed crude oil.

So Quartz queried veteran oilfield hands for suggestions on how to stop, cripple or hobble production at the source—the fields themselves—with the least environmental damage. None wished to be quoted by name, advising how to destroy oil infrastructure.

Their main suggestion was to ignore pipelines and storage tanks, which can be quickly repaired and replaced, and instead go after “anything with rotating machinery,” as one Middle East-based oilman said. Valves, pumps and compressors, for example, would be prime targets, since there’s a long lead time in obtaining replacement parts.

A UK-based oilman suggested hitting electric infrastructure, saying:

Many of these facilities aren’t connected to the grid, as they use their own associated gas for power. This means they have installed generating capacity. The lead time [to obtain parts for] turbine generators is anywhere from one year to three, tending towards three. So if you take out the turbines you effective disable the field for an extended period without any damage to production equipment or wells.

The main point was that you can seriously impair the 10 fields under ISIL control without turning the region into an inferno.

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