Courtesy of BBC

Oil Companies Complicit In Iraqi Deaths From Gas Flaring, Says BBC

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21-year-old Ali Julood, a native of Rumaila, Iraq, was scheduled to speak a the BP annual meeting on April 27, but he couldn’t. Ali died on April 21, a victim of leukemia likely caused by flaring near his home. His father, Hussein Julood, spoke for his son instead via a webcam.

Through an interpreter, he told the meeting, “From my door, you can see the black smoke from gas flaring 24 hours a day, and you can smell the toxic chemicals from these flares. Sometimes it’s so bad, breathing is difficult, and oil rains from the sky. Cancer is so common here, it’s like the flu.” Hussein told the BP meeting that Ali “loved nature — his favorite place in the world was his garden. And he wished that children could enjoy playing and breathing freely outside.”

In response to the news of Ali’s death, BP offered its condolences to Ali’s family.

Gas Flaring & Cancer

Ali was one of several people interviewed by the BBC last year for a documentary entitled “Under Poisoned Skies” that examines the activities of the oil and gas industry in Iraq. The BBC found that areas near gas flaring sites contained high levels of chemicals and pollutants, with rates of leukemia and other cancers among the local population notably higher than in other parts of the country.

In Rumaila, where Julood lives, flaring occurs less than 2 km from the family home, despite Iraqi law requiring a minimum distance of 10 km from residential areas. Ali’s phsician told the BBC that his leukemia was likely caused as a result of his proximity to those chemicals and pollutants. A report leaked to the BBC showed rates of the cancer in the area, which is located south of the city of Basra, have increased by 20% in the past five years.

The BBC investigators found evidence that millions of tons of emissions from gas flaring had failed to be declared by major Western oil and gas companies working in Iraq. In its report, it named BP, Eni, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell as companies that are contributing to the egregious level of pollution in the area.

In response, Italian energy giant Eni said it “strongly rejects any allegation that its own activities are endangering the health of the Iraqi people.” Despite such vehement protestations, the truth is fairly easy to determine. If Eni is flaring off unburned methane gas, it is creating a danger to the health of anyone living downwind.

The Guardian says gas flaring is a wasteful and avoidable practice used by oil companies to burn off the natural gas expelled during drilling. The process releases both greenhouse gases and dangerous air pollution. The gas could be captured instead and used to power people’s homes, saving them from dangerous emissions. But for more than a decade, BP and its partners have failed to build the necessary infrastructure. BP reported record profits from its operations near Rumaila last year.

On its website, the BBC says Iraq was the world’s second worst gas flaring country in 2021 and is warming twice as fast as the global average. Under Poisoned Skies uncovers how some of the world’s biggest oil companies have managed to avoid declaring a substantial amount of flaring emissions, giving the impression to investors and the public that they are on track to hit these targets.

Filmed in southern Iraq, home to some of the world’s biggest oil fields, the documentary follows Professor Shukri, a professor of environmental pollution, as he tries to find out why people living near gas flaring site say that for them “cancer is like the flu.” Ali Julood told the BBC he and his friends describe their neighborhood as “the cemetery.”

With advice from global pollution experts, Professor Shukri conducted tests to measure pollution levels near oil fields. The tests represent the first time public inquiry into pollution levels have been conducted in these communities. The results are concerning, and prompted Professor Shukri to ask,”Why are we paying the price for this smoke which comes from the oil companies?”

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History Has The Answers

That’s an excellent question. For an answer, we have to look to history, first to understand the role of oil and gas production in the Middle East, and second to understand the position of the United States regarding Iraq. The Middle East has powered the economies of the developed world for over a century, while western countries turned a blind eye to the blatant corruption and totalitarian governments enable by extracting those resources.

For those who thump their chests and crow about how market economies promote democracies, take a close look at the countries in the Middle East and elsewhere which have vast reserves of oil and gas. Do you see freedom ringing out in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, or Russia? Not hardly. All are home to repressive regimes that rule with an iron fist. They also divert all the profits to the pockets of their rulers, leaving little left over for their citizens.

Second, we have George W. Bush, who told the world he woke up one morning to find God had spoken to him and instructed him to invade Iraq. That wasn’t shocking. What was shocking is that virtually all Americans nodded their heads and said, “If God spoke to the president, that’s good enough for me. Let’s go clean out that rat’s nest.” Bush’s coterie of enablers looked directly into the cameras and promised — cross our hearts and hope to die — that America’s great expedition wouldn’t cost a penny because the profits from Iraqi oil would pay for everything, with money left over.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the war on Iraq has cost America nearly $2 trillion and that includes nothing for the more than 300,000 Iraqis killed during the war or the 9.2 million Iraqis displaced because of it. And all because a deranged American president had a vision during which God spoke to him and told him to go murder people in a distant land who had nothing whatsoever to do with the national day of horror on September 11, 2001. That we can thank our Saudi friends for, even though they suffered no consequences for their actions.

The Takeaway

The fossil fuel calculus is quite easy to do. Oil and gas companies make billions and billions of dollars extracting natural resources to power the economies of developed countries, while the local people are left to rot in a hellhole of pollution that leads to sickness and death. Most apologists for the energy companies see absolutely nothing wrong with this and believe that if God didn’t want us to burn coal, oil, and methane, He wouldn’t have given us so much of the stuff on the first place. It is our duty to honor God for giving us such precious gifts.

Ali Jalood might disagree, but he’s dead so who cares what he thinks? Certainly not the titans in charge of BP, Eni, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell.

Hat-tip to CleanTechnica reader Martyn Hibbert

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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