Environmental experts warned this week that war in Iraq will cause "massive and possibly irreversible" damage to the Persian Gulf region and significantly add to global warming. The environmental leaders said the ensuing damage to Iraq's ecosystem and food and water supplies may eclipse the destruction during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
"I think it will be comprehensive damage, and I don't think it will be localized to the area of Iraq, regardless of how precise and surgical our bombing campaign will be," said Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco-based environmental analyst who made two trips to Iraq shortly after U.S.-led forces drove the Iraqis from Kuwait.
Oh, and putting out burning oil fields is not particularly easy:
Most of the teams [that fought oil fires in Kuwait after the first Gulf War] used seawater pumped through Kuwait’s empty oil pipelines to battle the fires....
It took Kuwait more than two years and $50 billion to restore its oil output to prewar levels. If Iraq sabotaged its oil fields, any cleanup could take far longer and cost much more.
Iraq’s fields and pipelines are badly run down after 12 years of U.N. economic sanctions. Its fields are also much farther from the sea than those in Kuwait, meaning a ready source of water might not be so easily available.
Destruction could be especially bad if Iraqis set off explosives underground, deep within the well shafts themselves. If that happened, firefighters would have to drill a new “relief well” and pump a mixture of sand, gel and mud into each damaged shaft to try to plug it up and stop the blowout.
“It’s a long, arduous process,” Badick said. Whereas he and his crews put out as many as five fires a day in Kuwait, cleaning up after a single underground explosion can take two months.