Makeshift Oil Refineries in Syria

Case Study II

What are the environmental costs of civillian-operated makeshift oil refineries in Syria?

How does the oil demand affect a war country? What it’s harms to society, environment and other possible resources like economy and war strategy?

How much has an impact of it in the country? (This might include some political statements too, even if it is not my expertise.)

PAX for Peace Report on “Scorched earth and charred lives, Human health and environmental risks of civilian-operated makeshift oil refineries in Syria”


Makeshift structures:

Quantity – Year (Time), Satellite maps, 5 sites and coordinates.

Illustration demonstrates the makeshift refinery oil process.

Imagery (public and underage civilians working in the infrastructures).


Providing multiple view modes and multiple infographics that would benefit the storytelling in the most efficient way.

Handling the issue in a story telling setting rather than throwing the viewer into the complexity.

Possible areas of focus:



Health – society


Why is oil important? (in a country war and what are the reasons of high demand). Is it a role in war? (too much detail and political statements are possible reasons to avoid this part but still giving content about the use of oil is necessary for an effective introduction).

March 20th

With the start of the Syrian conflict, professional oil production has hovered down. However, the demand on oil from public and global crowd, created a civilian operated (back yard) makeshift oil refineries, where a range of oil products are processed by using crude oil.

  • At least 5,791 of makeshift oil refineries have sprung up at selected site in Syria, Deir-Ez-Zor.
  • According to satellite analysis, at least 36 sites with various sizes have been located, scattered through the whole Syria.

A link noted to the previous study of Pax Organization:

“Lastly, this research builds on PAX’s previous desktop study Amidst the debris… which was published in October 2015.1 This study identified four types of hazards – feasible scenarios in which the environmental impact of the conflict may have a direct and or long-term impact on the public health of the Syrian people. These hazards include the targeting of industrial facilities and critical infrastructure, the heavy damage to residential areas and exposure to hazardous building rubble, contamination from the intense use of weapons and the breakdown of environmental governance. PAX believes that a broader approach to assessing conflict-related environmental damage should be part of humanitarian response planning and military operations to prevent civilian harm during and after conflict.”

This connection might be helpful to link these projects together.

What does the role of oil in Syria?

“Oil services: Motorcycles, cars and trucks to generators, household and industries -all use a variety of oil derivatives. Households also need oil for heating in the winter. Many hospital generators, pumping stations, water purification sites and power plants are dependent upon refined oil for electricity production. As in most industrialised countries,
oil has become the blood in the economic veins of Syria. This dependence on oil and the revenues generated from its sale have made this commodity a vital tactical resource for ISIS, oil smugglers and the local population.” (pp. 9)

The crucial importance of oil (global and local) affects the targeting strategies and flow of the conflict.

“Prior to the war, Syria’s production capacity was around 383.000 barrels of crude oil a day, and 316 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Oil production has since dropped to 25.000 barrels a day in government-controlled areas. The production capacity in rebel and ISIS-held areas is unknown, but ISIS does control Syria’s biggest oil asset, the Omar oil field. In 2014, experts estimated ISIS’s produced 40.000-80.000 barrels of crude oil a day, though recently experts warned not to overestimate ISIS’s reliance on oil incomes, estimating the production to be much lower, namely around 20.000-30.000 barrels a day.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the production and refining of crude oil witnessed
a sharp drop due to loss of skilled staff, lack of equipment or damages due to fighting. Yet the need for oil was still high. Desperate residents in some regions have taken advantage of oil leaks to acquire fuel for heating purposes, only to find that unrefined crude oil exposure was causing a range of health problems such as irritation to the eyes, skin, and lungs, as well as dizziness, rapid heart rate, and headaches. It is estimated that in the Jazira area alone (part of the Kurdish-dominated enclave in Al-Hasakah province) there are already over 3.000 makeshift oil refineries. Local reports indicate that civilians are turning to makeshift oil refineries for income, selling refined products on the roadside, gas stations or directly delivering them to remote communities that have no other source for energy products as a result of a collapsed energy infrastructure.”


1.Crude oil is heated in the furnace which produces various oil products, depending on the temperature inside.

2. The hydrocarbons evaporate and flow through a pipeline at the top of the furnace.

3. The vapour is cooled while flowing through the pipeline in a water basin.

4. The vapour condenses, comes out in liquid form and is collected at the end of the pipeline.

“The OIR information centre currently claims to have taken out 1.620 oil infrastructures whereas the Russian Ministry of Defence stated they have damaged 32 oil refining complexes, 11 oil refineries, and 23 oil pumping stations, while destroying 1.080 oil tankers. Recent images from the Russian Ministry of Defence also demonstrated attacks against makeshift oil refineries in Hama province, although these locations have not been independtly verified.” (pp. 13)

This information might be valuable to map the damage given by different forces. Report indicates that U.S. Pentagon’s spokesperson shared the environmental concerns on targeting the oil infrastructures. However, these considerations were less of an issue for Russian Air Force. Therefore, the oil infrastructure is affected by the ISIS, civilians and military activities in addition to high demand to oil from the neighbor countries.

Destruction of the oil infrastructures perceived as a way of fighting with ISIS, but also there are civilians working in there under the control of ISIS.

Based on the report and analysis, oil demand and availability have extremely crucial roles in the current war environment. If the accessibility to infrastructures can be controlled, the war will end sooner.


Under peacetime circumstances, the oil industry is (ideally) heavily regulated because workers can be exposed to numerous hazardous chemicals and by-products of oil and gas drilling, which present both a health and an environmental threat if not handled properly.18 19 These can range from chemical burns to inhalation of toxic vapours, hydrogen sulphide, silica and diesel particulate matter. Oil fires release harmful substances into the air – sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and lead. These can be transported over a wide area before deposition in soils and can cause severe long-term health effects for people and wildlife, especially people with pre-existing respiratory problems. Long-term exposure to oil-related substances may lead to respiratory disorders, liver problems, kidney disorders, anaemia, teratogenesis (prenatal toxicity), developmental disorders and cancer.


Environmental Legacy of Syria’s War

World bank: War and Economy


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