BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Saboteurs have mounted the biggest attacks yet on Iraq’s oil infrastructure, blowing up four pipelines in the north in 24 hours, and hitting exports via Turkey, oil officials say.
The attacks, which were hours apart, sharply reduced crude oil supplies to Iraq’s biggest refinery at Baiji. The government is already struggling to build up stocks of refined oil products ahead of winter.
Sabotage against oil facilities in north and central Iraq has intensified in the past few weeks as U.S. forces has mounted attacks on Sunni Muslim cities where insurgents have support. Imports of refined products have been also disrupted.
The first pipeline attack on Monday night destroyed a section of the Iraq-Turkey export pipeline in the Riyadh area, 65 km southwest of the oil producing centre of Kirkuk, officials at the state North Oil Company said.
It was followed by two other attacks, including one in the Qoshqaya region northwest of the city on a pipeline connected to the Bai Hassam oilfield and feeding the main export pipeline, officials said.
“They used rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and bombs,” said an oil official of the latest attack, adding that the pipeline was connected to the Khabbaz oilfield, 35 km (22 miles) south of Kirkuk.
Reuters Television footage showed huge blazes with no fire crews to be seen.
“We cut off all flows for now. The Qoshqaya fire is covering around one square kilometre. The export pipeline fire is also big,” one official said.
“Technically, the system was shut down.”
EXPORTS VIA TURKEY HIT
Iraq has been exporting some 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) in recent days via the pipeline to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, mainly from the Kirkuk oilfields in the north.
Shipping sources in Turkey told Reuters some crude still appeared to be flowing to Ceyhan, albeit at a reduced rate.
The oil is likely to be coming from smaller fields further north of the blast via the pumping station at Tikrit but it is unclear how long this can be sustained.
“The pumping has been sort of sporadic in the past week. It is down to about 140,000 bpd today,” one shipper said.
But the sources said about 3.5 million barrels of Kirkuk crude are lying in storage tanks at Ceyhan, meaning tanker loadings can continue on schedule.
ExxonMobil’s Framura tanker was due to lift 700,000 barrels later on Tuesday, shippers said.
The Kirkuk region produces 600,000-700,000 bpd out of the country’s output of 2.6 million bpd. Exports were continuing normally via the southern Basra terminal.
Oil officials said relentless sabotage since the war has cost the treasury billions of dollars in lost revenue. Iraq’s October exports were at 1.76 million bpd from Basra as well as Turkey, shipping lists compiled by Reuters showed on Tuesday.