Air pollution: The dirty secret of BP’s record profits

Air pollution: The dirty secret of BP’s record profits
Air pollution: The dirty secret of BP’s record profits

Air pollution: The dirty secret of BP’s record profits

  • Owen Benell
  • BBC News Arabic

image shared, Hussein Falah/BBC

Far from the eyes of world leaders pledging to protect the planet at COP27, people like Ali Hussein Jalloud, a young leukemia survivor, live near an Iraqi oil field carried by BP.

When the BBC found out that BP had not reported gas emissions from the field, Ali helped us uncover the truth about the toxic air that people in the area were breathing.

I first saw videos on Twitter in 2019 showing the smoldering sky and billows of black smoke over the homes of Iraqi oilfield residents and learned that this is a common occurrence. The process of flaring gas escaping from oil wells, is called flare gas. to the burning towers).

image shared, HUSSEIN FALEH

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The process of burning flare gas causes many serious diseases, especially leukemia, among the people living near the oil fields

We have found through satellite data that the Rumaila field in Basra in southern Iraq is the worst oil field in the world in terms of flare gas emissions. Flame gas is not only a major source of gas emissions that cause global warming, but it is also known to be responsible for emissions of petroleum benzene that increase the risk of cancer, particularly childhood leukemia.

Dozens of people living in different communities near oil fields like the Rumaila field told us the same stories and confirmed that they have a relative or friend who has cancer and often leukemia.

One of them is Ali, who was eighteen at the time and whose father sold everything in his house to raise enough money for his son’s treatment in Turkey. Ali says the Basra cancer hospital is full of people like him who live near the oil fields.

Home to several thousand people, Rumaila is nicknamed the “shadow town” by locals because it is cut off from the rest of the areas and lacks basic services. Ali and his friends call it “Graveyard”.

“When we were kids, when we were playing soccer, we would run indoors because of the smoke that was suffocating us and the oil that was raining down on us,” Ali says. “When I told the doctor at Basra Children’s Cancer Hospital that I live in this area, he told me that this is the main cause of your illness.”

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Ali Hussain contacted BP on four separate occasions to seek pollution compensation

There are no published studies on cancer rates in these communities, and we later found out that data on the subject is kept constantly by the Iraqi government. A Iraqi Health Ministry document leaked to us reveals that the cancer rate in Basra is three times higher than official records.

Some of the people who live and work in Rumaila have sent us videos that give us a glimpse of life there. We had difficulty getting permission to enter the area and take pictures of ourselves. Our official requests were denied at least five times.

The Rumaila field, which covers an area of ​​1,800 square kilometers, is larger than some small countries and surrounded by several checkpoints patrolled by oil field police and private oil company security firms.

Behind them are armed militias who dominate political life in the South and benefit from the region’s oil production.

So our only option is to go to Rumaila secretly.

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Fatima, a 13-year-old Iraqi girl, draws while in hospital being treated for leukemia shortly before her death.

We wanted to film the pollution measurement experiment ourselves and it was based on advice from the world’s top pollution experts. And we practiced it before we went there.

The experts advised us to use so-called diffusion tubes, which are small copper cylinders with a filter inside to absorb pollutants.

We worked with an ecologist in the region named Professor Shukri Al-Hassan, who is the only one in the field, to conduct two weeks of testing in the neighboring communities of four different oil fields within 10 kilometers of the flare gas towers, including the Rumaila field.

We also took samples from children’s urine to determine the presence of manifestations of intoxication associated with exposure to gas combustion processes.

The results of the test showed that 52 children we tested had high levels of metabolic naphthalene, a substance known to cause cancer, in their samples.

Our air tests showed gasoline levels were three times higher than the allowable limit across the country and well above the safe limit, which the World Health Organization says should be zero everywhere.

After our documentary aired, Iraqi Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail pledged that all gas emissions from the Rumaila oil field would be eliminated by 2026, but he made that pledge on his last day in office, just like all previous pledges made by the government about burning flare gas is not met.

However, it is unclear who is responsible for phasing out gas flaring: the oil field is owned by the Iraqi government, but BP manages it together with its partners.

Iraqi Oil Minister at the time, Abdul Jabbar Ismail, told us reducing gas flaring was the responsibility of British Petroleum (BP), but BP says the responsibility lies with the oilfield operators, which are the Rumaila Operating Authority (ROE) acts. , which BP established in partnership with other companies and in which it has a 48 percent stake.

We spoke to a number of sources within BP to find out how conditions on the ground have deteriorated.

A former Rumaila employee, Robert (not his real name), told us, “Because BP is the prime contractor, it has a duty to the Iraqi government to follow international best practices in the operation and maintenance of the Rumaila field.” He added Additionally, “burning gas” is just one of the practices he describes, the objectionable one in Rumaila, which is in no way acceptable in BP’s operations and does not conform to international standards that BP has committed to implementing when contracting it .”

He said the failure to maintain and update on-site systems and infrastructure has created unresolvable problems and led to “repeated oil spills, gas flares and unplanned gas leaks.” This claim has also been confirmed by other BP employees. The BBC has seen video evidence of large oil spills in the Rumaila field.

Two other former BP employees told us that there is insufficient pollution monitoring on site, which worries them for their safety.

A BP spokesman told the BBC: “I would like to strongly refute the claims you have made regarding operational security at Rumaila. Investment, much more needs to be done.” We are fully committed to further improving the Rumaila field as a matter of urgency .”

image shared, Issam Abdullah Mohsen/BBC

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An aerial view of the Qurna field

Ali is on the way to recovering from leukaemia, but his immune system is still weak – he dropped out of education and has stopped playing sports after representing Basra in regional football competitions.

Many of the other children with cancer we met and regretted having died included Fatima and Mustafa, who were 13 years old and lived near other oil fields in the area, and five-year-old girl Benin, who also cared for her older brother through these disease lost.

Ali has repeatedly spoken to the BBC to seek compensation for being deprived of an education he did not complete and said an employee from the Rumaila Operations Authority visited him the day after the BBC investigation aired and again asked him to pay asked for compensation.

“I mentioned my pollution-related illness to him and asked him if BP would compensate me for the damage to my health. But I haven’t heard from them since.”

A BP spokesman said it was not appropriate to comment on private conversations between Rumaila staff and individuals, but added that immediately after first contacting the BBC, BP ​​”began to work with its Rumaila partners to resolve the issues raised.” Investigating problems and how to address them is necessary.” This involves reviewing the processes and procedures in place to support local communities and understanding their concerns and this is an ongoing process.”

Prior to our initial investigation, BP informed us that flare gas emissions are only reported “in accordance with applicable regulations” when they operate the field, so data on Rumaila field gas emissions and operational data are not included in our report.

Employees we spoke to within the company estimated the cost of improvements to reduce emissions from flare gas combustion to be between $3 million and $5 million, a very small portion of BP’s overall record quarterly profit, which totaled $8 billion, last reported known week.

Additional reporting from Jess Kelly and My Name is Stallard.

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