Wim Zwijnenburg is the head of PAX's humanitarian disarmament project. He is committed to conflicts and environmental issues in the Middle East, the use and proliferation of emerging military technologies, and arms trade @wammezz
Entering the ninth year of the war, the basic humanitarian needs of Syrian civilians, displaced persons and local communities remain an issue. Fuels for heating, cooking, and transportation are difficult to obtain and require huge economic and environmental costs. For households that often use alternative fuels such as wood and plastic, the former is a direct problem, while the latter will become a burden on the country in the post-conflict phase.
As documented in previous open source articles, Syria’s oil industry has been hit hard, resulting in severe damage to production facilities, oil spills and the rise of temporary refineries in eastern Syria, especially in Derdzor and Hassah. gram. Soon after the peaceful revolution against the Assad regime turned into a bloody conflict, the professional oil industry collapsed, and these refineries were forced to do so.
Armed groups soon began to take over major refineries and oil fields, causing staff to feel uneasy and further suspend normal production; otherwise, after the Islamic State took over these areas in 2014, the refineries became the target of a US-led coalition and Russian air strikes.
The rise of temporary oil refining, because crude oil can still be extracted and exported, soon became a viable source of income for local civilians, because these unsustainable coping strategies are needed to compensate for unemployment. Armed groups have also used these practices to generate revenue and smuggle networks to fund their war machines, making these refineries a common enterprise in Syria.
This project is based on investigations aimed at identifying the large number of temporary oil refineries that have been or continue to be used in Syria, and the huge environmental health hazards associated with these practices by civilians working in the industry. These are the main findings of this visual survey
Overview of the refinery cluster in northwestern Syria.
Our previous research articles on conflict pollution in the petroleum industry used open source information collection and remote sensing to help deepen the understanding of conflict-driven toxic dynamics that can cause serious acute and long-term health and environmental risks.
Civilians working in oil refineries face a series of deadly dangers. Heating oil drums can be very unstable. Events in northeastern Syria tell us that many people were killed or seriously injured by the explosion of oil drums. If this does not happen, smoke and toxic substances can still cause serious health problems, because many anecdotal reports in the past few years include waste oil infecting wounds, severe respiratory problems caused by inhalation of toxic fumes, and sometimes even direct inhalation of toxic vapors. The cause of death comes from the burner, which contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) related to carcinogenicity and mutagenicity.
The question then is what long-term exposure means to workers, many of whom are children. In all media reports and interviews with workers, the fear of cancer is a common concern. In practice, the smoke from burning oil may also contain high levels of particulate matter and heavy metals, which can affect the internal organs, especially the kidneys. A complete overview can be found in this table in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration brochure on oil spills.
Heart rate, loss of consciousness, suffocation, coma
The long-term environmental impact of these refineries may also pose serious risks to human health, local ecosystems and biodiversity. Especially the petroleum wastes stored in rivers and dozens of leaks into local creeks or rivers will contaminate groundwater and soil, and need to be cleaned, repaired and monitored. However, in post-conflict recovery plans, these environmental considerations are often still missing or insufficient funds.
At the same time, oil does not stay in one place, and expertise in oil trade and (semi-)temporary refining is spreading across the country along the trade route to Aleppo. This is not without risks. Therefore, in this article, we will look at how the practice of oil refining quickly took root in northwestern Syria.
Most of the oil extracted from the Deir ez-Zor and Hassek oil fields is exported outside the production area because these oil fields have been severely damaged and hardly have any refining and storage capacity. Since the outbreak of the conflict, the practice of temporary oil refining has spread rapidly in these areas. Tens of thousands of small refineries have appeared on the roadside, backyard and in large clusters, producing a low-grade but functional form of diesel that the locals call mazut. . Other refined products include gasoline for engines, cars, and trucks, and kerosene for house heaters.
The combination of the U.S.-led coalition forces and the relentless bombing operations of the Russian Air Force severely weakened the oil production capacity of the Islamic State. With the rise and (and subsequent decline) of ISIS and the large-scale displacement of these areas, the expertise and technology to build these refineries quickly spread to the West.
According to the Financial Times article linked in the previous paragraph, since 2015, traders have obtained oil from the ISIS area and exported it to the rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo and Idlib, as shown in the figure below.
Oil Trade Syria, Financial Times, 2015
For this study, we will mainly use Google Earth Pro (GEP) to understand the development of temporary oil production in this area of Syria. This is also because other free images (such as Planet Labs and Sentinel 2) are not yet available during this period or are difficult to process through easily accessible earth observation platforms such as Landsat 8.
Therefore, we mainly insist on using GEP for high-resolution recognition. Taking into account the ever-changing power dynamics and economic activities, we searched certain areas using the "historical image" feature in GEP, which is the key to seeing temporary oil refining rises (and sometimes declines) in various areas of northwestern Syria.
We also used Sentinel-2 images with a 10-meter resolution provided through Sentinel Hub to scan areas to look for fire, smoke, and burning areas that might indicate refinery activity. In particular, colored infrared (vegetation) bands proved to be very useful in identifying clusters because the black dots contrast sharply with the red vegetation color. We also used Planet Labs, which has images almost every day (depending on cloud cover) to get possible confirmation from social media reports using its 3 meter resolution. Finally, we searched open source articles from the past 9 years using various English and Arabic keywords to understand the location of artisanal refineries (often called primitive refineries, oil burners, or temporary refineries) and Twitter searches.
Crude oil is loaded at the oil fields of Deir ez-Zor and Hassek, and then transported by thousands of tankers through areas controlled by the Self-Defense Forces. According to Twitter user @Obretix, there are several entry points in the area controlled by the rebels, the largest of which is the Hamran border crossing in Umm al Jalud village, west of Mambij
From the oil fields in the Hasaka and Deir ez-Zor provinces to the opposition-controlled areas, there are also more or less tankers passing through Hamran in the northwest of Manbij https://t.co/L3acUs1UUw (2019 Satellite image on March 28, 2015) Picture.twitter.com/HCDmw6Z3Tp
The quoted video "Dozens of trucks loaded with fuel entering the regime controlled area from the Self-Defense Forces" shows the oil trucks on the east-west axis of Manbij and Ain Issa https://t. co/wuLnX1NuDm 1/ 5
On the Google Earth Pro image, you can see the kilometers-long queue of tankers entering and leaving the rebel-controlled area of northern Aleppo at the so-called Hammam crossing, as shown in the following figure:
Another entrance from the SDF area into northern Aleppo was once opened to the north of Tal Rafay village. In 2017, it was discovered that tanker trucks entered and exited northern Aleppo from the SDF area, and was later closed.
The figure below shows the general trade route of crude oil from Hassek and Deir ez-Zor to northwestern Syria.
The southeast part of the Qarah Qawzaq Bridge connects Aleppo and Raqqah provinces, and is also close to the former US and current Russian air force bases. There is also an oil facility in the grain and cotton warehouse. On the satellite imagery in 2018, it can be seen that the tanker was placed there, and the Sentinel-2 image from March 2019 indicated that there was some kind of leakage at this location-this could be oil waste from local oil refining, or the tanker Empty their waste there. In November 2019, this waste stream disappeared, which not only showed that it was cleaned up, but also ruled out the possibility that it was water, because the spill can be seen for 9 months.
Grain and cotton depot, oil depot, Raqqa.
The site seems to have been in use for at least a year, but the most recent images in 2020 indicate that the storage and disposal of waste has stopped because the storage tanks have been removed from the site, which may have been in Turkey on October 2019 after Russia took over. After the month led the invasion of northern Syria and the subsequent presence of Russia, the U.S. Air Force base near the end of 2019 was attacked.
Oil storage in grain and cotton depot
There are also reports of oil smuggling from the Self-Defense Forces area to the regime-controlled area of Deir ez-Zor, but these seem to be mainly local groups using ships, pipelines and trucks. But this is unlikely to end up in northwestern Syria because the oil is mainly used in areas controlled by the local regime.
In the next section, we will study specific areas, local refining dynamics, and living and working conditions in these locations.
Based on the available video and photo clips, our previous report on Deir ez-Zor, and a field trip to northeastern Syria in 2018, there are four different refinery versions.
These refineries mark the beginning of this process, are documented in numerous media reports, and are easily visible on satellite images. They were just built by digging a trench, filling it with water, and putting a stove at the end. Then the pipe is passed through the ditch, the heated oil is condensed and collected at the end of the pipe. Because of their size, these refineries do not produce a lot of oil in each furnace, so you can usually find many furnaces and ditches in one location. Especially in Deir ez-Zor, these types of burners were discovered in large numbers from 2013 to 2016, as we recorded in the 2016 "Scorched Earth, Carbonized Life" report.
Below is an example that contains images of an oil refinery in Tel Rifaat in 2013, and satellite images from the left corner of Deir ez Zor to show what these refineries looked like from space. Usually, they can be found together with waste oil residues through black spots at the ends of the trenches, which blackens the soil around the furnace.
The scale of oil production is important, and people working in the informal oil industry are beginning to build a larger, more professional version. Soon, larger types of temporary oil refineries built larger storage tanks, multiple pipelines, and larger built-in fortified buildings, sometimes on the ground, with basins with appropriate canvases to retain water. The following are examples of these refineries in Idlib, constructed based on interviews in 2017.
There is also a larger version, with multiple burners built around a pool, as shown in the picture below, composed of various shots from the 2017 Aleppo Al Jazeera project. There are larger water tanks, larger pools and multiple pipes, but it still requires manual fuel supply to heat the tank. The blue canvas is eye-catching among these types of burners, making them easy to spot on satellite images
Each refinery has multiple burners, Idlib, 2017
The traditional temporary oil refinery used has often proved to be unstable, leading to frequent explosions, killing and maiming local workers. Therefore, promote the establishment of stable oil refineries and reduce artificial heating of crude oil, thereby minimizing the health and safety hazards of workers.
In the past three years, we have witnessed the emergence of semi-professional oil refineries, which heat oil by diesel engines or by vacuuming tankers to quickly heat oil. In areas controlled by the Self-Defense Forces, these types of refineries are now more common after self-management shut down most of the roadside burners after the community filed complaints about pollution and health hazards.
In November 2018, two oil workers at a "vacuum" refinery in Haskar. Wim Zwijnenburg
Newer devices also have solid basins, made of cement, with more control settings to measure and adjust heating, which makes them more reliable and easier to operate. Therefore, the output of each refinery seems to have increased substantially.
The following is a video compilation of a semi-professional refinery like Tel Rifaat north of Aleppo in 2017.
The above refinery was built in 2017, but it is likely to be abandoned after Operation Olive Branch, which was a Turkish-led operation in 2018 to invade the Afrin region of Syria. Geolocation @obretix
The use of temporary refineries outside Deir ez-Zor seems logically to be a slow westward movement, as knowledge of this practice is spread by displaced refinery workers. Therefore, we initially started in Raqqa province, where we searched for refineries through satellite imagery. The first image of the area is from October 2013, showing an artisanal oil refinery near the M4 highway from Raqqa to Manbij. The black spot at the end of the ditch shows waste oil on the soil, indicating that the refinery has been active recently. At the same location, in 2016, we saw that this situation has basically disappeared, which means they are no longer active.
Temporary oil cluster, Raqqa West, 2013-2016
The informal oil refinery on the west bank of the Euphrates River in Aleppo was first visually confirmed by satellite imagery in 2016. But the first media reports on this trend appeared in 2013, showing roadside refining in Aleppo province [archived], as well as in Manbij, as civilians struggled to obtain affordable gasoline. Other reports also indicate that the refinery operates in Tel Rifaat in the north of Aleppo city, and we found some roadside burners in the southeast of the town in 2013/2014.
According to an interview with oil workers in a 2013 article by Al Jazeera, the use of "primitive burners" began in 2013 in Deir Hassan, a small village in Idlib province on the border with Turkey. Using Google Earth Pro, we did discover an oil refinery east of the village in 2013 and more in 2014. In the town of Salwah, about 8 kilometers north of the village, a handful of artisanal oil refineries also appeared in the 2014 image, while in 2017, a larger type of oil refinery appeared on the roadside.
Manual oil refining process, Deir Hassan/Salwah, 2014
From 2013 to 2020, informal refining became a common practice throughout northwestern Syria, and local oil entrepreneurs quickly learned how to improve the technology of these refineries and increase production. In the beginning, by 2013-2015, people could find some low-quality refineries near the village, but the situation changed after 2016, when we saw a rapid increase in the number of refineries across the country. After 2016, these refineries can usually be found in smaller and smaller clusters, as this may make it easier for large tankers to transport crude oil and export refined versions to the final destination.
In the next section, we will study specific areas, local refining dynamics, and living and working conditions in these locations.
The area between the Euphrates and Sajur rivers has become a hot spot for the local informal oil industry. In this part of northern Aleppo, we have identified 30 clusters, of which at least 400 refineries are in use or have been in use during the period 2014-2020.
On the west bank of the Euphrates River, a small refinery with large burners appeared in the first few weeks of January 2017, and a large cluster further away, as shown in the Sentinel-2 image. By March 2017, the site expanded rapidly, with approximately 60 refineries, but a few months later, this number dropped again, with only a few in operation. By 2018, the site appeared to be completely abandoned.
However, in June 2019, the area was cleared and an IDP camp was built on the site of the former refinery. It is not clear whether the soil was properly repaired before building houses for displaced Syrians at this location
The temporary oil refinery became a housing project in the IDP south of Jarabulus https://t.co/sVJpSXOVTi pic.twitter.com/ugvrjFX8YO
Due to a fire at a location in Bir Al Kussa in August 2019, a small group of nearby oil refineries were still operating, and White Helmets were sent to extinguish it.
As a local worker in the area north of the Sajur River explained, Al Jazeera’s 2017 interview provided background information about the oil refining process.
5 kilometers southwest of Jarabulus, more refinery clusters began to emerge at the end of 2016 and grew rapidly in 2017. Various media reports were produced at this location in 2016, showing interviews with workers in different locations. Due to multiple fires, the fire brigade of the White Helmets has become a frequent visitor in the area.
The White Helmets fire brigade managed to put out the fire that broke out in an oil refinery in #TellChair town near #Aleppo 乡#Jarabulus city and controlled the situation without causing casualties. pic.twitter.com/jAlUG0NvkL
-White Helmet (@SyriaCivilDef), June 2, 2018
The increase in the entire #Syria’s manual #oil refining also brings additional health and environmental risks, as shown in the example of this burned oil refinery https://t.co/u7HEv2S6HM
— Wim Zwijnenburg (@wammezz), June 24, 2019
Tell Shair cluster: In about 8 clusters near Jarablus, there are more than 100 refineries, both active and inactive
After the killing of the so-called Islamic State leader Bakr Al Baghdadi (Bakr Al Baghdadi) hidden in Idlib, which borders Turkey, it is also clear that the oil trade route is often used to smuggle Islamic State agents through self Guards and rebels control the area. Before being defeated by rival factions, ISIS had a firm foothold in Idlib and Aleppo.
On October 27, it was reported that the United States launched an air raid on an oil tanker on the road between Mazlah and Youssif Bik a few kilometers south of the Tall Shair refinery. Soon, it turned out that the attack killed Abu Hassan Muhajir, the spokesperson of the Islamic State. Obviously, oil trucks with hidden compartments are often used to smuggle individuals from Deir ez-Zor to Idlib and Aleppo.
The footage of the "burning tanker" may confirm #SDF's claims against #IslamicState spokesperson Abu Al-Hassan al-Muhajiir. @AleppoAMC confirmed the "rocket attack" on Ain al-Bayda, the same village mentioned in Mazloum's recent tweet. https://t.co/5bbkWYnGx1
-Riam Dalati (@Dalatrm) October 27, 2019
The oil industry has also become a target for Russia and Syria. The same area was bombed by the Syrian Air Force on November 25, 2019, and it was claimed on the Internet that although the night air strike was probably completed with the support of Russia. This was part of a wider attack on the informal refinery in Aleppo, and a large cluster in Tarahin northeast of Al Bab was also bombed.
When we headed west from Jarablus along this road and crossed Sajur into Aleppo province, we found several smaller clusters on the side of the road. The real action did not begin until we reached the village north of Al Bab. According to this video, some roadside burners have been active near Al Bab since 2013, but we cannot confirm the location. Other small clusters with more than a dozen refineries emerged around 2015/2016, but it was not until the summer of 2017 that the area became a major oil production base.
The three main clusters are located close to each other north of Tahrin village, or also known as Tarahin. Local news reports are a good record of oil production at these locations and the concerns of civilians and workers. Using the Sentinel Hubs EO browser, we created a time-lapse photography showing the rapid growth of refineries in the region from May 2017 to May 2018.
Sentinel-2 back in time, 2017-2018. Color infrared.
This location appeared on our radar in June 2018 when a post appeared on the Internet in which a Twitter user noticed how displaced Syrians in nearby camps began to complain about the health effects of smoke. According to reports, dozens of children were hospitalized due to breathing problems caused by continuous exposure to toxic fumes from camps for displaced persons.
Report children from camps for internally displaced persons with health problems related to exposure to toxic fumes from the temporary #oil refinery north of Al-Bab, #syriahttps://t.co/aMFNgxkmgWhttps://t.co /NTjVWa9bME pic.twitter. com/RnKqGsH9mu
— Wim Zwijnenburg (@wammezz), June 6, 2018
In 2018 satellite images, a large number of tents and campsites can be clearly seen in the orchards surrounding the oil refinery.
Displaced people living in an orchard near the oil refinery
Still from Oriental TV’s 2019 news report at the Tallinn refinery
In this video, perhaps at the same location in 2019, health issues are also mentioned as a serious concern for local workers and citizens. Risks also come from frequent fires-as happened in Taharin in June 2019, as seen in this white helmet video-and the explosion of crude oil cooking barrels
This is a horizontal version of the video, showing explosions and large smoke. Still waiting for satellite image confirmation on June 13 pic.twitter.com/7NrvsPPtjz
— Wim Zwijnenburg (@wammezz), June 13, 2019
Another interesting thing we learned from the video is related to the use of burning crude oil waste as cooking coal. After the crude oil is heated and the gasoline/gasoline/diesel is collected, the tar residue is usually scrapped from the barrel by children/teenagers because they fit in the barrel. This exposes young people to the toxic vapors inside, explaining a large number of respiratory diseases and skin problems from anecdotal reports. The "tar coal" they collected from the inside and the "oil sands" outside the barrel leaked, and they were reused as cooking materials.
Taharin's Steps News Agency in 2019
Stills from the Taharin Step News Agency's 2019 video show how to use oil waste scrapped from oil drums to produce coal, which is then used for heating.
On November 25, 2019, the location was one of the three main targets of the Syrian Air Force and/or the Russian Air Force’s air strikes, the other targets were Jarabrus and Qusa
The alliance led by #BREAKING NEWS video#US targets #ISIS 油船和小油田#ISIL between Al Bab and Jarabulus in the northern part of #Syria and sells it to #Turkey. The Turkish government cooperates with # from 11pm to 5am every night. Islamic State continues #جرابلس #الباب pic.twitter.com/93iHFT7Ewy
-Botin Kurdistani (@kurdistannews24) November 26, 2019
A video appeared the next day, showing the location where one of the bombed tank trucks was destroyed. Twitter user @obretix targeted it to Tallinn
Geographical location where the airstrike on the temporary refinery near Tarhin last night https://t.co/PKQBwdiGlA pic.twitter.com/GKef0EDSWW
The bombing of refineries and supply routes clearly had an impact. According to this video from City Al Babs News, which was filmed at the location in February 2020, the refinery was closed because it was no longer delivering crude oil to Takharin. However, in a video released by the White Helmets in April 2020, when a fire broke out at a roadside refinery near the village of Susan Bart in the southeast of Tallinn, it showed that there was still some crude oil that could be used for refining.
This afternoon, after a fire broke out at a primitive fuel refining station in the village of #Aleppo以东#Sosnbat, firefighters from the White Helmets extinguished a fire. Our team managed to control the fire without recording casualties. pic.twitter.com/gYu6IcSe2o
-White Helmet (@SyriaCivilDef), April 13, 2020
In addition to the main Tahrin cluster, there are more than a dozen smaller refinery clusters in the surrounding area of Al Bab. Some of them were also bombed by Russia, such as this time in Kabr Makri, where 8 civilians were reportedly killed and dozens of others were reportedly injured.
Another bombing took place in 2016. It was also the Russian Air Force. Among them, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a video clip, which was located by @obretix to the Kabr Makri refinery.
RuAF Air Raid Temporary Oil Refinery https://t.co/30UpebwTLr (January 19, 2016) located about 8 kilometers east of al-Bab https://t.co/3Y5OwHM6zu pic.twitter.com/bTCkFyyqoD
Other videos that we cannot locate also show various incidents at the refinery near Al Bab, such as the video of the fire in 2017 and the explosion of the refinery in September 2019. Below is an overview of all refinery clusters located.
Refinery clusters around Al-Bab, Aleppo
As mentioned at the beginning, informal refining started in 2013, between the Turkish border and the city of Aleppo, and around the towns of Deir Hasan and Salva in the north of Idlib.
According to interviews with refinery cluster owners in 2019, 450 refineries in the region transport crude oil to the region-crude oil is either refined there or shipped to Turkey, as stated in an interview with a local businessman in 2013.
In 2015, construction of several refineries in the mountains west of Aleppo city began, and in 2016, more refineries appeared in the same area where this practice began, near Salva on the Turkish border. In 2017, some temporary roadside refineries appeared near Tal Adeh in the southern part of the region. This white helmet video shows that in 2017, an oil refinery in the village of Al Houta, west of Aleppo, was bombed by Russian aircraft and reported various accidents related to oil transportation.
There were also incidental reports of oil refinery accidents in the Kurdish-controlled Tel Rifaat area.
Refinery cluster west of Aleppo
Deeper in the border between the two provinces, various large clusters can be found, and their use has been well documented.
As one worker described in an interview with Irfaa Sawtak, "The manual refinery is located in the village of Idlib, and the ratio of each village or city is one to three." This statement is far from the truth. According to available satellite images, some places do have at least one oil refinery per village.
Like other places, environmental health risks are rampant. As a local doctor explained in the NRT video of Idlib [archive] in 2017, the Halab TV broadcast of the Idlib oil refinery in 2017 was also rampant. Other discussions on health issues were brought up, as well as an Arabic interview with Al Jazeera at a location in Idlib in 2017.
There are particularly large clusters around the town of Mara, which is frequently visited by the media, and documents from the White Helmets show that there are frequent accidents at the oil refinery on the roads around the town.
Refinery clusters around Mara on the border of Idlib and Aleppo
Only 15 kilometers southwest of Mara, near Saraqib city, refineries of a similar pattern can be found, distributed around various villages. Most of these refineries appear to have been built and put into operation in 2017, as the latest satellite imagery from 2018 on Google Earth shows that most of them are abandoned. This area is also the subject of this article published in 2016. A local refinery claimed that there are more than 3,300 refineries in the "Liberation Zone of Syria". The region was taken over by the regime in 2018, explaining why they stopped serving because local residents fled and/or obtained refined oil from the regime's sources.
In 2017, the refinery cluster near Sinjar, Aleppo.
In 2017/2018, on the road from Abu Adh Dhuru south to Karayya town, similar buildings in various clusters around the village were also in operation, where multiple clusters can also be seen. Allegedly, in 2016, some refineries near Abu Ad Dhura also became targets of Russian fighters.
-Syrian Arab Army (@Syrianarmyxx) February 15, 2017
According to a Step news video clip referring to the nearby town of Sinjar in Idlib province, Karayya's cluster was also bombed in 2017.
Refinery cluster around Karayya, 2017
Through parts of Idlib and Aleppo, smaller clusters can also be found-on the roadside and in villages, or we have found single refineries for household use in the backyard, including villages in Al Fuhayl, Kafr The rocky hills of Nabl and the countryside east of Khan Assubul. These are the places we happen to encounter, but there may be hundreds of locations. These toxic refineries were or still form the backbone of the much-needed energy production for civilians. Under severe wartime conditions, cooking fuel, transportation, and heating are all essential uses.
Summarizing our findings, after the collapse of professional production after the conflict, oil trade and refining quickly spread throughout Syria.
Especially in areas not controlled by the regime, it is difficult for civilians to obtain fuel for cooking, transportation, and heating. Artisanal oil refineries quickly began as a countermeasure. Oil smugglers, criminal gangs, and armed groups are increasingly profiting from exporting crude oil from oil fields in eastern Syria to rebel-controlled Idlib and Aleppo, where local workers and displaced civilians build and operate refineries .
These backyard burners and cluster refining practices have also caused additional health effects on civilians who have already borne the brunt of the bloody war.
Day after day, surrounded by the toxic fumes of burning petroleum, rubber, and refined gasoline, thousands of people, including many children, suffer from severe respiratory problems, skin problems, and wound infections, and those who have been exposed for a long time May suffer from internal organ damage caused by the accumulation of toxins in the body.
During 2013-2018, we have identified at least 300 temporary refinery clusters in total. In each cluster, there is at least 1 refinery, but we also found clusters of 50 refineries.
For example, in Maara in Idlib, we gave about 40 points and counted 150 refineries. Therefore, taking 5 refineries per point as the minimum, we have a lower limit that estimates that there are at least 1,500 refineries in total. Given that there are more refineries in some locations, and due to outdated or missing images, we are likely to miss many refineries. A more accurate estimate may be around 5,000 refineries.
This estimate covers all the refineries that have been built, but it should be noted that not all refineries are in use at the same time. In some places, we have witnessed the construction and subsequent abandonment of these refineries, most of the time related to the recapture of the area by the regime's army, due to air strikes or other military targets, or due to unknown reasons.
Due to the large number of oil refineries that have been or are still operating, this means that thousands of civilians, including many children and adolescents, are exposed to harmful substances and toxic fumes for a long time, which may cause long-term health complications.
According to reports, there have been many incidents showing that people were killed by barrel explosions, but there were also incidents in which Russian and Syrian warplanes airstrikes on these oil targets caused casualties. We still need to better understand how the local environment is affected by petroleum waste products that pollute local water and soil, as this may severely hinder the living and working conditions of local communities after conflict.
This type of conflict pollution needs to be properly documented to minimize the health and environmental risks to civilians. We have proven that it is possible to determine the specific location and scale of this phenomenon through open source investigations and the use of remote sensing, thus leading the way.
The results of the investigation should prompt the inclusion of these risks in humanitarian and medical response policies, and at a later stage, the inclusion of these risks in post-conflict remediation and reconstruction efforts, just as the UN Environment Assembly resolution and the UN Security Council’s recent environmental, peace and security issues.
Without the valuable help of Samir @obretix, this article would not be able to be written as QGIS support
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