A. Discussion

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded and occupied Kuwait. In the months following the invasion, it became increasingly clear to the Iraqi leadership that a military confrontation with Coalition forces building up in Saudi Arabia was inevitable. It was at this time that Iraqi leadership decided that if its forces were to be ejected from Kuwait, they would first wipe out Kuwait’s oil producing capability. To achieve this goal, Iraqi engineers targeted Kuwait’s oil wells, tank farms, pumping stations, pipelines, refineries, and loading terminals. In short, Kuwait’s entire oil producing capacity was slated for destruction.[7, 8]

As early as December 1990, the Iraqis practiced placing and detonating explosive charges on selected oil wells. The actual destruction of Kuwait’s oil wells, coinciding with air strikes by allied forces, began on January 16, 1991.[9] In late February 1991, with the commencement of the ground war, Iraqi forces began to systematically and comprehensively destroy more than 750 oil wells throughout Kuwait and in the neutral zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Smoke from the burning oil wells was first visible from satellite images as early as February 9, 1991.[10] Satellite images showed that the number of oil fires peaked between February 22 - 24, 1991. In total, over 750 of Kuwait’s 943 oil wells, distributed among eight fields, were ignited or damaged by the Iraqis.[11]

The first fires were extinguished in early April 1991, with the last well capped on November 6, 1991.[12] During this period, it was estimated that the damage sustained to well heads resulted in the release of approximately 4-6 million barrels of crude oil per day and 70 - 100 million cubic meters of natural gas per day.[13, 14] The burning wells created a huge, widely dispersed smoke plume that degraded the air quality in the region and generated various potentially hazardous gases. These gases included: sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). Particulate matter (soot) containing partially burned hydrocarbons and metals was also generated. In sufficient concentration, both the gases and the particulate matter have the potential to result in adverse health effects in exposed populations.[15, 16, 17]

Beginning in May 1991, numerous sampling/monitoring, modeling, environmental and health risk assessments, and health screening and epidemiological studies were initiated by international teams to examine whether a causal relationship existed between exposures to oil fire smoke and adverse health affects, such as those reported by some returning DoD troops and civilian personnel. The results of these studies will be reviewed in subsequent sections of this report.

This section addresses the major occurrences associated with the oil fire issue from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to the extinguishing of the last oil well fire. In examining these occurrences, this report will focus on several specific areas of discussion, including:

Table 1 presents a chronology of the events surrounding the destruction of the Kuwait oil fields. Major occurrences in this chronology include the following:

Details surrounding these events are presented in subsequent sections of this report.

Table 1: Chronology of Major Oil Well Events in Gulf Conflict[18, 19]

Date Event
August 2, 1990 Iraq invades Kuwait and develops "Scorched Earth" policy.
December 1990 Iraq experiments with effectiveness of explosives on oil wells.
January 19-23, 1991 Iraq releases oil from Sea Island terminal into the Gulf.
January 22, 1991 Iraq initiates the burning of oil wells, starting at Wahfra field and moving north.
January 26, 1991 Allied bombing ends oil flow from terminal; oil visible in Gulf on NOAA AVHRR image.
January 27-28, 1991 The US Government Interagency Assessment Team (USIAT), led by the US Coast Guard, travels to Saudi Arabia to provide technical assistance for oil discharge response.
February 5-6,1991 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) holds meeting in Geneva to develop interagency action plan.
February 8, 1991 Oil visible in Gulf on Landsat TM image.
February 15-17, 1991 The Iraqi Army systematically ignites oil wells in Kuwait.
February 24, 1991 Allied ground offensive begins; fires reach peak; extensive smoke plumes visible.
February 28, 1991 Kuwait City liberated; cessation of hostilities in region.
March 10, 1991 The US Interagency Air Assessment Team (USIAAT) deploys to Gulf to provide technical assistance in response to oil fires.
March 11, 1991 Fire-fighting efforts are initiated.
March-May, 1991 The USIAAT conducts air sampling, health surveys, and air reconnaissance surveys of the oil fire smoke plumes.
April 3, 1991 US EPA releases the preliminary Interagency Interim Report on Kuwait Oil Fires.
April 5-11, 1991 Space Shuttle mission STS-37 photographs plumes and oil slick.
April 27-30, 1991 The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) holds an international conference in Geneva to address atmospheric issues related to oil fires and develop an air monitoring plan.
May 1, 1991 DoD’s US Army Environmental Hygiene Agency (USAEHA) sends a team to collect samples to monitor health effects. Samples sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md.
May 5 - Dec. 3, 1991 USAEHA conducts air monitoring in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
May 6, 1991 US EPA releases the complete Interagency Interim Report on the Kuwait Oil Fires.
May 16- June 15, 1991 Aircraft flights to study smoke plumes.
November 6, 1991 The last oil well is capped.

B. Intelligence Prior to the Initiation of Hostilities

Shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, information regarding Iraq’s intentions to destroy the Kuwaiti oil infrastructure came to light. From that point until late February 1991, when the oil fires peaked, all-source reporting gave clear indications that Iraq was preparing to systematically destroy Kuwait’s oil producing capabilities. Oil wells and rigs in the Minagish oilfield, for example, were known to be wired with plastic explosives by Iraqi soldiers in the first days of the occupation.[20] During August 1990, Iraqi engineers were known to have spent one full night wiring the Burgan oil field with explosives.[21, 22] The Burgan fields proved to be a particularly significant Iraqi target. They ultimately comprised almost 50%, or roughly 300, of the wells that were set on fire.

Baghdad has never offered an explanation for the mass sabotage it conducted, but a number of plausible reasons have been put forward. Shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein developed a "scorched earth" policy with respect to Kuwait’s economy. This policy was focused on ensuring that, in the event of an attempt by coalition forces to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait, nothing of value would be recaptured. By destroying hundreds of oil wells, the Iraqis could damage Kuwait’s most lucrative industry, while also detrimentally affecting the general environment of the area.[23]

Evidence suggests that Iraq’s decision to destroy the oil fields was also based on a desire to achieve a military advantage. Iraqi generals believed that the intense smoke plumes created from the burning oil wells would serve to inhibit Coalition air strikes.[24] The smoke would not only make offensive air strikes difficult for the Coalition, but could screen Iraqi military movements.[25, 26] An additional tactical advantage Iraq hoped to gain was to obstruct the movement of the Coalition ground forces. Iraqi military leaders thought that the heat, smoke, and debris from hundreds of burning oil wells would serve as a formidable obstacle for the Coalition armies.[27] Evidence supporting this assessment can be found by examining the dates of oil well destruction. At the beginning of the Coalition air campaign, the number of oil wells on fire was relatively small. This number increased dramatically in late-February with the initiation of the ground war.[28]

Economic factors also likely contributed to Iraq’s motives for the destruction of the Kuwaiti oil industry. In the year or two proceeding the Gulf War, events within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) lend credence to this assessment. As of January 1990, Kuwait’s policy on the sale price of oil left it essentially isolated within the 13-member OPEC group.[29] Kuwait, due to its massive investment income, favored relatively low oil prices.[30] The other 12 members of OPEC, nations such as Iraq that relied much more significantly on oil sales for income, favored moderate to high oil prices.[31] As a result, a clear motive existed to retard Kuwait’s oil production capacity.


The Iraqi army was able to ignite 605 oil wells and destroy multiple production facilities in a short period of time. This efficiency shows the lengths to which Iraqi forces went to ensure the completeness and success of the sabotage.[32] Detailed instructions on how to place explosives were sent from Baghdad to oil field engineers.[33] Under the supervision of these engineers, Iraqi troops packed 30 to 40 pounds of plastic explosives on each well head. The detonation cords were then placed to allow simultaneous detonation of multiple wells. Additionally, wellhead "Christmas Tree" valves[34] were ruptured in many cases without any type of igniting device. This maximized any associated gas dangers. Before the Coalition air strikes, the Iraqis practiced their well destruction procedures on mockups in Iraq.[35] Iraqi forces are known to have experimented with the effectiveness of explosives on six wells in December 1990.[36]

C. The Reported Use of Oil Well Fires to Distribute Chemical Agents

Beyond the inhibitory effect of the oil well smoke, fires, and debris, there has also been speculation by the press that the Iraqi army used ignited oil wells to disperse chemical agents. This theory originated from an article that appeared on GulfLINK. The article referenced a translation of an intercepted message to Iraqi units involved in rigging the oil wells for detonation. The first translation of this message mentioned precautions that should be taken when units of the Iraqi 29th Infantry Battalion were involved in "chemical preparations."[37] Specifically, one excerpt from the original Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) translation stated: "Protection masks should be worn at any explosion, as poisons or poisonous gases are found at the wells."[38] In addition, several references to the Iraqi 29th Infantry Division Chemical Warfare Headquarters exist in the translation. These statements raised suspicions that Iraq may have used the ignited well heads to disperse chemical agents.

In response to these concerns, DIA was asked to review the translation of all relevant Iraqi documents. During and after the Gulf War, the Army experienced an acute shortage of trained Arabic linguists. This shortage resulted from the large number of captured enemy prisoners of war who needed to be screened and interrogated, and the massive quantities of captured documents that required translation. As a result, many wartime document translations were somewhat rushed, inexact, and improperly interpreted. After more careful study and precise translation, the meaning of the documents appears more innocuous. A revised translation of the most germane portions of the Iraqi documents states: "Use masks while exploding wells, because of poison gases in wells, use them also during training."[39] This revised translation supports the position that any use of protective masks by Iraqi soldiers was for the sole purpose of protection from dangerous gases associated with routine oil operations (e.g., hydrogen sulfide). Additionally, the presence of hydrogen sulfide could have motivated Iraq to use its Chemical Corps, a group trained to operate efficiently in such an environment.

In addition to the revised translation of the intercepted Iraqi message, there are several other reasons why it is most likely that the oil fires were not used to distribute chemical munitions. First, it is well known that the most efficient method of destroying chemical munitions is through high temperature incineration (~550o C). Indeed, incineration is a tested and proven method for disposal of the entire chemical weapon (i.e., agent, explosives, metal parts, and packing material). The US Army has been using this incineration process for more than 20 years.[40] Thus, as oil fires were in the temperature range of 600-800o C, it is not likely that the Iraqis would attempt to distribute chemical agents in this way. However, complete combustion in a regulated incinerator is not identical to incineration by an uncontrolled oil well fire.

Second, as one chemical expert from the Army’s Chemical Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM) explains, there is no evidence that troops experienced any known symptoms associated with exposure to chemical warfare agents in the close vicinity of the oil well fires. The lack of this type of evidence makes the use of chemical agents in this way unlikely.[41] Even if the chemical agents were present in the fire, the lack of reported symptoms is supporting evidence that the agent was not available in sufficient quantities to cause harm to US troops.[42]

Another notable fact regarding the interaction of chemical agents and the products of oil well fires is that no research is known to have been done by anyone on the issue. Consultations with a number of subject matter experts at the Army’s Chemical Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM), discussions with private sector experts, and a review of a CBDCOM database that dates back to 1917, have revealed the absence of any such research.[43, 44] One reason for this is that there is no apparent advantage in attempting to distribute chemical agents in such a manner.[45, 46] Yet, it is important to note that the US and European military communities have generally not been in a position to utilize oil well fires for military purposes. Therefore, oil well fires as a tool for the distribution of chemical agents or other weapons would not likely be an area of high priority research.

D. Physical Hazards Associated with Oil Wells

The physical hazards associated with the burning oil wells were considered serious. These dangers, in order of decreasing severity, are as follows:

Specific pollutants associated with oil fire emissions will be discussed in more detail in Section IV. Section V will present the health hazards associated with exposure to oil well fire smoke.

The oil fields in southern Kuwait were considered more dangerous than those in northern Kuwait because they contained higher concentrations of volatile organic compounds, and because they contained H2S, aromatics, and light hydrocarbons, making oil released at the well head flammable. This oil can be readily ignited by static electricity or incendiary devices. The crude oil itself is a health hazard because, in addition to other toxins, it contains benzene, which has been determined to be a cancer-causing compound.[47] Additional information on the health effects associated with exposures to crude oil and oil fire smoke can be found in Section V. Table 2 presents a summary of the dangers associated with Kuwait’s major southern oil fields.

Table 2: Dangers of South Kuwaiti Oil Fields[48]

Oil field Location Dangers
Burgan 2900N 4800E Massive fires, sour crudes, hydrogen sulfide gas, possible firestorms due to very high concentration of wells over a large area.
Maqwa 2907N 4758E Massive fires, sour crudes, hydrogen sulfide gas, possible firestorms due to very high concentration of wells in a small area.
Wahfra 2805N 4759E Fire trenches, low-pressure wellhead fires, oil swamps and bogs, hydrogen sulfide gas, potential fuel-air explosive (FAE) hazard.
Minagish 2902N 4733E Fire trenches, sour crude, hydrogen sulfide gas, oil swamps and bogs, potential FAE hazard.
Umm Gudair 2849N 4742E Fire trenches, sour crude, hydrogen sulfide gas, oil swamps and bogs, potential FAE hazard.

One of the greatest dangers from non-burning oil wells was from dissociated H2S and highly volatile light ends (e.g., methane, ethane, butane, benzene, and toluene). These gases are capable of forming lethal concentrations, which can be readily ignited, potentially forming a massive ground-level fuel-air explosion (FAE). Additionally, under cool, calm atmospheric conditions these toxic gases were expected to be found in pockets at very high concentrations (10,000 to 20,000 ppm H2S) - enough to quickly saturate the activated carbon filters of standard-issue gas masks.[49] At levels this high, inhalation of a few breaths could rapidly lead to death without respiratory protection.

Depending on the oil-bearing structure, hazards associated with H2S in the oil fields varied. The Marrat structure (see Tab G) yields sour crudes with a very high associated H2S gas content. The deep high-pressure wells in the Minagish and Umm Qudair fields were thought to be the most dangerous with up to 2% by weight of H2S, or 10,000 to 20,000 ppm of H2S (note: 400 to 600 ppm is lethal). In addition, deep wells with similar H2S content tap the Marrat structure in the Burgan and Magwa fields.[50]

Shallow wells were thought to present only a moderate H2S danger. Due to their lower wellhead pressure and lower flow rate (oil flow at the wellhead may range from 1,000 to 5,000 barrels per day), fires at shallow wells were easier to extinguish than those at high-pressure wells. Unlit shallow, low-pressure oil wells, however, presented the greatest FAE hazard because flammable gases (light ends, gas condensates, and H2S) were released at ground level. Under optimum meteorological conditions (cool temperatures with calm or near-calm wind conditions), these heavy gases were expected to hug the ground and lowlands. Due to their low flashpoint, these gases were also thought to be easily ignited and capable of producing a lethal shock wave.[51] The potential dangers associated with H2S notwithstanding, there was no evidence uncovered from medical examinations or health screening studies that any of the health and physical hazards associated with H2S were observed during the Gulf War, nor were there any reported health outcomes associated with exposures to the gas.

E. Preventing Exposure

1. Risk Prevention and Reduction Policy to Prevent Exposure to Forces

In response to the impending threat of smoke and debris from ignited oil wells, a number of early warnings were issued to DoD military and civilian personnel in Kuwait. These warnings were based in part, upon extensive consultations between government and private sector experts on protective methods for dealing with the oil well fires.

A Foreign Service and Technology Center (FSTC) Scientific and Technical Analysis Bulletin warned of the possible hazards associated with extensive oil well fires.[52] The bulletin warned not only of fire and smoke hazards, but also of the likely threat of hydrogen sulfide, a gas that can cause dizziness, disorientation, vomiting, and death.[53]

An Operation Desert Shield Report from early January 1991, prepared by the US Army Intelligence Agency, warned of the hazards of oil well fires. The report stated: "Due to the intense heat, no troops or combat vehicles should ever approach within 200 meters of the fire."[54] The report went on to explain that the military was not properly equipped to fight the oil well fires and that Coalition forces should not involve themselves in fire-fighting efforts.

The possible risks to troops associated with the oil well fires were also discussed in an Army Central Command (ARCENT) Medical Command (MEDCOM) information paper. The information contained in this paper was derived from MEDCOM’s Preventive Medicine Consultant.[55] The paper discussed the use of surgical or dust masks and goggles as a means of protecting troops from the effects of oil fire smoke. Also, the practices of rolling down shirtsleeves and rolling up vehicle windows when in the vicinity of the oil well fires were outlined.[56]

The guidance provided by the ARCENT MEDCOM was echoed in a Marine Command Surgeon message. This message was sent on March 25, 1991, from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Command Surgeon stated that, although there was not a known increase in risk for chronic disease from oil well fire smoke exposure, the use of a gas mask and hood could reduce the onset of short-term symptoms.[57]

2. Training and Equipment Provided to Prevent Exposure

As the ground offensive neared, the Department of Defense (DoD) increased its efforts to advise troops on exposure prevention. According to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report[58] , DoD efforts included providing specific guidance to the command and troops on protective measures that should be taken. In early March, DoD advised soldiers to avoid smoke plumes when possible and wash frequently to keep their skin free of soil and soot. Medical personnel and health units also were alerted to the possibility that the smoke could cause lung irritation (i.e., coughing and wheezing), and illness among asthmatics. By mid-March, more specific guidance was provided. Such guidance involved using disposable face masks (i.e., surgeons’ and nuisance dust masks) or scarves, rolling down shirt sleeves, keeping physical activity to a minimum, and staying upwind of the burning wells.[59]

DoD used several methods in communicating guidance concerning oil well precautions to both command and troop levels. Fax and teletype messages were used extensively to communicate with the field. Briefings and frequent announcements were then used to spread this information to the troops. An additional method of keeping troops informed was through the Armed Forces Radio, the primary news source for those in the Gulf.[60]

The communications that have been discussed represent a small portion of the total guidance disseminated during the Gulf conflict. Figure 3 is a timeline that shows when some additional specific DoD and other agency guidance were given. Tab H contains a list of DoD and other agency guidance on limiting personnel exposure to oil fire smoke.

Figure 3: Guidance Timeline

Overall, the GAO report noted that DoD took reasonable steps to safeguard the health of US troops who were stationed in the Persian Gulf and exposed to potentially dangerous smoke.[61] However, as the GAO report notes, health advisories and guidance were not issued to the troops until February and March 1991. In terms of the timeliness of this notification, it appears to be somewhat late since information contained in Guidance Timeline (Figure 3) and Appendix H documents suggest that the DoD was aware of the threat posed by the oil fires as early as September 1990. Furthermore, and contradictory to the GAO report, some veterans have stated that no protective equipment or training was provided to them to deal specifically with health threats from the oil well fires. These statements were made during interviews with Gulf War veterans. The interviews focused on a series of questions relating to the personal experiences of veterans participating in the DoD Incident Reporting Hotline. The questions asked are presented in Tab I, and in summary consist of four major questions:

A group of 270 veterans was selected from those participating in the self-reporting Hotline program.[62] As the selection criteria indicate, these veterans represent the most exposed portion of those who called in to the Incident Reporting Hotline. Selection was based on some or all of the following selection criteria:

Responses of all 270 participants have been included in a single case file.[63] A simple analysis was performed on the results of the survey. This analysis looked at two different factors. The results of this analysis are shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Results of Veteran Responses to Oil Well Fire Questionnaire


Percent of respondents showing agreement with factor.

Number of respondents showing agreement.

Troops were given special instruction/warning to deal with hazards associated with the oil fires.



Troops used equipment other than Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear as protection from oil fires (e.g., scarf, painter’s mask).



Note: Results based upon 270 responses.

Though it is understood that the 270 responses do not represent a random sample, the homogeneity and nature of the responses lead to the following general conclusions:

" It was a Monday, the sky was so dark it was like night. Peoples eyes were running with black tears, your saliva was black, you had to have a bandanna over your nose to breathe."[64] Gulf War Veteran

F. The Nature and Extent of Destruction

Iraqi sabotage crippled Kuwait’s oil production and processing facilities. Approximately 85% of Kuwait’s wells were damaged or destroyed.[65] In addition to the wells, Iraqi troops were able to significantly damage almost every other aspect of the Kuwaiti oil production industry. This included gathering centers, transfer facilities, excess storage facilities, and operations centers.[66]

Within the oil industry, the well heads were Iraq’s primary targets. By striking the wells, Iraq could guarantee not only the immediate cessation of oil production, but also begin to drain Kuwait’s economic base. Iraq was able to inflict damage to virtually every major field in Kuwait. Tab G shows the major oil fields in Kuwait.

There are varying reports in the literature as to the total number of Kuwaiti oil wells that were set on fire. These numbers range between 605 and 732. For example, the USAEHA’s interim report[67] cites 605 wells on fire. This number is based on an analysis of the NOAA AVHRR and Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) satellite tapes. These tapes were digitally processed using the thermal infrared band 3, which is designed to record heat sources such as volcanoes and fires.[68] Husain (1995) puts the number at 609.[69] Al-Besharah (1991) and Tawfiq (1991) agree on 613 wells ignited by the Iraqis.[70, 71] Other estimates were 730+ by Al-Hassan (1991)[72] and 732 by Thorhaug (1991).[73] Since the USAEHA health risk assessment (see Section VI) is based on emission factors for 605 wells that were on fire, this figure will be used as the standard throughout the remainder of this report.

On January 25, 1991, Iraq began pumping Kuwaiti oil into the Persian Gulf, creating an oil slick that covered thousands of square miles. Iraq continued to dump oil into the Gulf until January 27, 1991, when Coalition strike aircraft interrupted the flow by destroying the main mixing manifold of the Kuwaiti oil systems.[74] Not all destruction to the oil fields was caused by the Iraqis. Coalition force attacks on Iraqi positions resulted in destruction and damage to some of the oil fields. During the Coalition air strikes in January 1991, heavy allied bombing destroyed 34 wells.[75] In addition, 13 of 18 Kuwaiti gathering stations were destroyed by Coalition air strikes. A US Air Force Defense Intelligence Summary from February 20, 1991, states that coalition air strikes have "significantly damaged Kuwait’s oil production system."[76] This collateral damage was a result of attacks on Iraqi military positions in the oil fields and throughout Kuwait.

The following table and figures show the overall extent of damage to the oil wells. Table 4 shows the type of damage to well heads at each field. The first column identifies the two regional fields and the individual fields of which each are comprised. The second column presents that total number of oil wells contained in each of the fields. The total number of wells that were ignited in each field is presented in the third column. The next column indicates the number of wells that were damaged in each of the fields. This number includes wells that received structural damage but does not include those wells that were ignited or damaged and gushing oil. The fifth column presents the number of wells that received damage that resulted in the uncontrolled release of crude oil. The last column presents the number of wells in each field that did not sustain damage in any form. Figure 4 summarizes the information contained in Table 4 on a percentage basis.

Table 4: Summary Assessment of Kuwait Oil Well Damage by Field[77]







North Fields:




















South Fields:











































Umm Gudair*












Note: * denotes a major oil field; + denotes a minor field; # field is part of the Greater Burgan oil field.

At the peak of the oil well fires, 4 to 6 million barrels of oil and 70 to 100 million cubic meters of natural gas were being burned per day.[78, 79]These numbers exceed Kuwait’s prewar crude oil production level of 2 million barrels per day.[80] By the end of 1991, when all of the oil well fires had been extinguished, more than one billion barrels of crude oil had been lost. This volume amounts to 1.5-2% of the total Kuwaiti oil reserve.[81]

While the damage to Kuwait’s oil wells was the most conspicuous and comprehensive, other components of Kuwait’s oil industry were also hard hit. Though this destruction was more random and incomplete than with oil wells, the damage was still extensive.[82]Gathering centers contain several important components to the oil production process, including storage tanks and oil transfer pipelines. Gathering centers in Northern Kuwait’s Sabriya and Raudhatain fields,in particular, suffered significant damage.

Figure 4: Damage Summary of Kuwait Oil Fields [83]

An additional area of concern was the formation of large pools or lakes of crude oil. These lakes resulted from damage sustained to the well heads and the resulting release of free flowing oil to the surrounding terrain. Damaged oil wells that were not on fire were able to freely spew thousands of barrels of oil a day onto the Kuwaiti landscape. Following the destruction of the oilfields, massive pools of standing crude oil were not uncommon. These oil lakes released large amounts of organic vapors into the atmosphere.[84] The lakes varied in depth from very shallow to more than 1.5 meters deep.[85] More than 100 oil lakes, covering an area of 16 square kilometers, were formed, with 45 in Burgan, 23 in Magwa, and 31 in Raudhatain and Sabriyah. In addition, 39 oil lakes, covering an area of about three square kilometers, were formed as a result of the accumulation of unburned oil in low-lying areas. It is estimated that these pools and lakes contained 25 to 40 million barrels of oil.[86]

The Iraqis also released oil into low-lying areas for defensive purposes. Along Kuwait’s southern border, a number of "fire trenches" roughly 1 kilometer long, 3 meters wide, and 3 meters deep were constructed to impede the advance of Coalition forces.[87] Though they proved to have little impact on the outcome of the war, these and other oil lakes ultimately did hinder the post-war fire fighting efforts. Flaming oil lakes were difficult to extinguish and made movement around burning wells even more dangerous.[88]

As a result of the massive destruction of the Kuwaiti oil industry, a large amount of pollutants were released into the atmosphere. This issue will be discussed further in Section IV of this report.

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