In northern Syria the economy is struggling in the wake of the Islamic State war, the Kurds of Rojava have resorted to the oil trade to stimulate it. You would think it is doing well by appearances, oil tanker trucks line the highways there. Their haul of oil has been gathered from the oil fields in Deir ez-Zor and are transporting it throughout the region to buyers from all over. Despite this, the oil trade industry in the territory is doing terrible. The years of conflict having engulfed Syria has left the regions infrastructure fractured and outdated, no investments have been made in Rojava’s oil fields and the battle for control of the territories vast natural resource has not come to an end yet.

Throughout the Deir ez-Zor region, pumpjacks from an older time churn up and down. In the distance pillars of black smoke rise from the archaic refineries that have been set-up. The refineries resemble something out of a Mad Max movie, comprised of scrap metal and adaptive Kurdish ingenuity. Workers from local villages move about covered in black mud as they work to separate and refine the crude oil, pools of it cover the ground around the sites. The crude oil is sold to private refiners who in turn give the Kurds fuel or pay them in return.

The well workers are local villagers and for the most part were farmers that were unable to maintain a living wage from agriculture alone. Maintenance is conducted using spare parts that are often decades old that were stored in local warehouses from however long ago. The wells are limited in numbers and supply according to Kurdish authorities so there is no telling when the oil reserves will be depleted.

The autonomous Kurdish government took control of the existing oil fields when Syrian government forces left Hassakeh in 2012 to fight rebel organization in other regions of the country. According to the Kurdish government’s Minister of Oil, Abdul-Karim Malak, the oil trade is Rojava’s primary source of economic revenue but neglected to disclose the numbers behind that.

Though the Syrian government has claimed they plan to reclaim the oil fields, for the time being it seems an unspoken agreement is in play as many government oil company employees have returned to work and are being remunerated appropriately by the regime. A large amount of the oil produced by the Kurds is being sold to the Syrian regime as well. As the Islamic States territory shrinks in the region, both sides rush to capture ground in the oil rich region. A Syrian Kurdish authority said that without improved refineries and modernization, “we are polluting the air here, we are polluting the environment. But we are forced to do this. Our contracts will go to those who support us politically.”

Featured image courtesy of Jim Gordan, USACE [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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