Microbial hope for cleaning up Iraq’s oil pollution in conflict-affected areas

October 04, 2019

RSK’s involvement in a bioremediation pilot project, which is seeking to enhance nature’s ability to clean up oil spills in Iraq’s conflict-affected areas, has been highlighted in a press release by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The pilot project, launched in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, by the UNEP, will seek to harness naturally occurring soil bacteria as a powerful natural ally to decontaminate oil-contaminated land. RSK has already pioneered Iraq’s fully fledged bioremediation treatment sites in the Zubayr and Rumaila oil fields in southern Iraq. It will also advise on the Kirkuk pilot.

Since 2016, when Islamic State fighters torched oil wells close to Qayyarah, Iraq, pools of oil have encroached the town’s streets and surroundings. Although a clean-up operation began soon after, progress has been slow, and further concerns were raised following heavy rain and flash floods in the 2018/19 winter season that washed the oil into the Tigris River.

“Microbes that naturally break down petroleum offer one promising and affordable solution to Iraq’s oil pollution predicament. While the idea of using oil microbes devouring oil spills is not a new one in Iraq, its potential is barely recognised by national oil companies, much less applied,” explain the UNEP in the press release.

“By adding nutrients from manure, bulking agents like wood chips and water, we are simply creating the ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive and speeding up the natural process of breaking down the oil,” RSK Global Division Business Development Director Dr Ian Goodacre is quoted in the release.

Ian represented RSK at the recent UNEP hands-on training workshop on remediating oil spills, which aimed to move the technique from theory to practice. Hosted at the North Oil Company (NOC) headquarters in the historic Baba Gurgur oil field, the workshop spanned four days from 23–26 September.

“It’s been a fantastic week,” commented Ian. “On the final day of the workshop, we took Dr Jassim Hamadi, Iraq’s Deputy Environment Minister, to the site of our pilot trial. He is keen to roll out more of these workshops in Iraq in different regions. RSK is excited to be involved in this project and to see the developments as it progresses over the coming months and years.”