Sailors pump up Iraq oil terminal
ABOARD AL BASRA OIL TERMINAL — Much of Iraq’s financial hope for the future rests on a $59 million coalition-funded upgrade.
Buoyed some 60 miles south of the war-torn nation in the Persian Gulf sits an oil platform that provides Iraq with an estimated 85 percent of the struggling country’s revenue.
Each day the Al Basra Oil Terminal, or ABOT, receives about 1.5 million barrels of crude oil via pipelines from southern Iraq. The oil is then pumped into tankers, a process that translates to roughly $11,000 in oil revenue per second, said U.S. Navy Lt. Aaron Bergman, officer in charge of Mobile Security Squadron 7, Detachment 73, from Naval Base Guam.
While technically in charge of the sailors training Iraqi marines to protect the terminals, Bergman doubles as a well-informed platform tour guide.
Upgrades to the north and south sides of the platform, operated by Iraq’s Southern Oil Company, should be complete by May or June, Bergman said. Upgrades feature new piping metering systems and added safety features such as fire hoses.
A new digital metering system lets pumpers measure precisely how much oil a tanker receives. Before, they “guesstimated,” figuring every centimeter a tanker lowered into the water equaled about 6,000 barrels of oil, Bergman said.
“So you can imagine,” he said, “a couple of inches could equal 180,000 barrels of fuel.”
Parsons Iraqi Joint Venture Project and Alaa For Industry joined efforts to upgrade the platform’s capabilities.
Then there’s security, Bergman said. U.S. Navy sailors rotate every six months to train Iraqi marines to safeguard the ABOT and smaller Khawr al Amaya oil platform. The task now is with the “Black Sheep” of Mobile Security Squadron 7, Detachment 73 from Naval Base Guam.
“They’ve received a tremendous amount of training and are getting better,” Bergman said. Four of six Iraqi marine platoons are “fully mission capable” and provide platform security, with U.S. sailors providing oversight.
Much of the training for the Iraqi marines is “on the job training,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Reeder, 28, a master-at-arms. “The training we receive is a lot of school, weapons school, combat school. Theirs is on the job training, running drills, but they’re doing fairly well,” Reeder said.
The picture is bleaker for the Khawr al Amaya, built in 1956 and showing tremendous signs of aging. From rusty beams to piping still pockmarked with bullet and artillery holes from the Iran-Iraq war, the coalition has no intention of sinking funds into upgrading the platform. It supplies oil from only one piping system, and the draft is shallower than at ABOT, meaning tankers can fill up only half way, or risk running aground.