Syria’s civil war is devastating its oil and gas sector, and if they are not careful, whoever finally emerges victorious may never be able to gain control of the fields again.
Due to the civil war most oil and gas fields in eastern Syria have ceased to operate, or are merely pumping tiny amounts that are then refined by local villagers using crude, dangerous, and highly polluting methods in order to produce meagre volumes of fuel to be sold for a small profit.
As the Syrian regime crumbled, society in the desert regions fell back into tribal states as was the case in the French colonial era, before the Syrian republic dismantled the tribal system and took their lands. As the tribes returned they quickly laid claim to their old territories, stating ownership of all fields within their area.
This has led to conflicts which are not just between rebels and Assad’s regime, but also different tribes. Abu Zayed, a clan leader, told the Guardian that “there is chaos now. The Free Syrian Army is chasing loot, and they don’t care about civilians. The military councils are stealing the aid and then selling it. There are dozens of battalions here, we don’t even know who is manning a checkpoint at the end of the street. Some people are saying the days of Bashar [al-Assad] were better, that the opposition has betrayed the people.
Most of the people who control the oilfields around here are making about 5m Syrian pounds [£32,000] a day. They exploit a field for a few weeks, but because of the chaos, another powerful cousin or battalion soon arrives to fight for it and take control of it.”
As tribes battle it out over the oilfields, they gather more weapons to defend their territory. Any party wishing to gain control of the country will have to rest the oil fields back off the tribes. A move that Zayed warns will not be easy; “not even the Americans could take these fields from us with all the weapons we have now.”
This piece is cross-posted from Oil Price.com with permission.