The Invasion & Destruction of Oil Wells and Facilities
On August 2nd, 1990, the previous Iraqi regime invaded Kuwait and inflicted heavy and devastating damages throughout the country's various economic, industrial, and infrastructure sectors. Kuwait’s oil industry was the most devastated sector of all, and the extent of the destruction inflicted at oil installations and facilities was unprecedented in the history of the modern oil industry.
The destruction unleashed on the oil installations and facilities was devastating and widespread. The first step taken by Kuwait Oil Company’s management was to conduct an exhaustive survey of the damage sustained in the production areas. After determining the extent of the damage, remedial measures began.
An estimated 80% of oil wells were ignited by the retreating Iraqi army, and ten gathering centers were totally destroyed. The amount of destruction in other areas varied. Gas booster stations and oil tank farms underwent varying degrees of damage while 13 tanks in the South Tank Farm and eight in the North Tank Farm were destroyed. The Sea Island facilities were also totally destroyed, and the North and South Piers required extensive repair and restoration work.
Al Awda (The Return) Project
KOC employees who remained in Kuwait during the occupation could only watch in horror at the scale of the destruction. No one thought that it was possible for the damage to be controlled, let alone repaired. But elsewhere in the world, other members from KOC were planning a contingency plan. Their efforts were named “The Al Awda Project,” or in other words, “The Return.”
KOC teams in the United States of America, Europe and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries worked on the Al Awda project. They secured the contracts, equipment and personnel necessary to combat the environmental disaster and to assist in the restoration of production facilities to enable the production of oil and refined products for local consumption.
Al Ta’meer (The Reconstruction) Project
After the successful completion of the Al Awda phase, the Project was renamed “Al Ta’meer” - The Reconstruction. The focus of KOC’s efforts moved towards the rehabilitation of 18 damaged Gathering Centers and the restoration of oil production to pre-war levels. Additional efforts were concentrated on the recovery and treatment of an estimated 20 million barrels of weathered crude oil from approximately 240 surface oil lakes, the rebuilding of over 40 storage and process tanks, and the refurbishment of the oil export facilities.
Kuwait Wild Well Killers Team
The Kuwait Wild Well Killers team was formed on September 9, 1991 to fight the oil well fires of Kuwait. The team was comprised of individuals with various specializations which included fire fighters, drilling operators, petroleum engineers, support servicemen and safety engineers. The team from Kuwait astonished foreign firefighting teams and observers when they extinguished the first burning well in a record of 12 minutes. The team then went on to extinguish wells east of Um-Ghudair before joining other teams to extinguish the largest oil well fire at Burgan 160.
The team worked 14-hour days, and thanks to the dedication of its members, the team was able to reduce the time needed to extinguish an oil well to one day and two hours compared to other teams from around the world that took three days and eight hours for each well.
To fully extinguish a single oil well required a process that involved many phases. First, the site was prepared and combed, mines and barbwire were removed from the areas surrounding the well, and nearby oil lakes were emptied. This first process was conducted in order to allow the land to more quickly recover to its natural state.
The second phase consisted of extinguishing the well, cleaning its head after a very close and thorough inspection, and an examination and preparation of all necessary equipment and measurements. The extinguishing process was carried out either through oil pumping or by installing a piece inside the wellhead that already existed during the oil flow.
After the second phase, the well was sprayed with cool water. The third phase dealt mainly with repairing the wellhead and preparing it for operations. Three wells on average were extinguished daily, and the maximum number of wells controlled in one day was 13.
Kuwait Oil Well Fires (1991)
Of the 700 oil wells that were set ablaze by retreating forces before their defeat in 1991, the Kuwait Wild Well Killers were able to extinguish 41 wells. This was achieved as a result of the members’ experiences gained from practical and theoretical training courses in and outside the State of Kuwait that came in addition to their weekly training that dealt with extinguishing simulated burning wells.
Al-Rumaila Oil Well Fires in Iraq (2003)
The Kuwait Wild Well Killers extinguished the A1 and A2 well fires in the Al-Rumailah oil field in Southern Iraq that were ignited by the former Iraqi regime in order to impede the advancement of Allied troops. Kuwait’s participation was based on a political decision by the government which aimed to help protect Iraq’s natural resources in addition to protecting the Iraqi environment from devastation and pollution.
The team from Kuwait confronted many difficulties, the largest of which was bad weather conditions due to sandstorms that reduced visibility to just a few meters. The team also had to overcome the threats posed by mines and explosives that were left by Saddam Hussein’s forces. Additionally, the area was not secure militarily, especially during the first few days of the war.
Despite these challenges, the most difficult problem was the lack of water needed to douse the fires. The number of burning oil wells at Al-Rumailah totaled some six wells, and the fires that were set were done so in a manner similar to those set in Kuwait in 1991.
In order to overcome the problem of providing the Kuwait Wild Well Killers with an adequate water supply required to extinguish the fires in the middle of the desert, four water tanks each with a capacity 16,500 gallons were built in the area. Later, another seven tanks were added, with a final total of 11 tanks.
The extinguishing method from the tanks was replaced by a water pond method because the pumping capability from the tanks was weak and limited. The ponds used to extinguish the fires contained about 300,000 gallons.
Despite these difficulties, the team succeeded in extinguishing the A1 and A2 well fires in a relatively short time, adding another achievement to their record.