NASA releases pictures of Libyan oil fires

Article by Staff Writer

NASA has released a new image taken by its Terra satellite of plumes of smoke hanging over the Libyan coast from oil terminal fires caused by attacks from IS militants.

The images show an area of coastline between Sirte and Benghazi, where the Ras Lanuf oil complex is situated. The US space agency says that the images prove that fires which began after a militant attack at Ras Lanuf on 4 January are still going on. It contrasts the most recent photograph with one taken on 7 January by the same satellite.

Oil fires on the Libyan coast on 7 January 2016 (Pic: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner)

(Pic: NASA/Goddard, Lynn Jenner)

However, there seems to be some confusion as to what exactly the images show.

A press release from Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) earlier in the month suggests that the first fires at its Ras Lanuf and Es Sider sites were extinguished. Meanwhile it confirmed a second vicious attack at Ras Lanuf by militants on 21 January. Direct hits on the complex led to five of its 13 oil storage tanks going up in flames, leading to clouds of dense smoke which blanketed the whole area. The company said the attack was a “humanitarian and environmental catastrophe”. NOC said that it had previously attempted to empty the tanks and ship the oil elsewhere, to minimise the risks of a potential new attack, but was prevented from doing so by the national oil installation guards.

NASA’s photograph is dated 28 January, but according to NOC, the fires were extinguished by 24 January after “brave firefighters” worked for 72 hours.

“In this occasion, the management board and all the workers of the National Oil Corporation would like to advance their appreciation and gratitude to all those who contributed in overcoming this disaster which hit the oil and gas facilities. Gratitude is extended to oil company workers and the population of adjacent areas,” NOC said in a statement.

According to NASA there are clear areas of active burning, marked by red lines on both images. It may be that there are other fires not being widely reported by the media. What is clear, is the damage being done to Libya’s oil and petrochemicals industry by ongoing unrest and fighting. Both the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf sites have been shut for more than a year and are currently only used for storage. According to the US Energy Information Administration, oil production is down 56% compared to a year ago, whilst exports are currently around 300,000 bbl/d, far lower than in 2012, when the country exported 1.3m bbl/d. Refinery utilisation in Libya currently stands at just 20%.

Article by Staff Writer

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