The government of Kuwait said Monday that it has contained a large oil spill near Al-Zour, and it expects to finish the cleanup of adjacent shorelines within a week. Power and water plant intakes had been temporarily secured in order to prevent contamination, but as of Monday, Kuwaiti official news outlet Kuna said that production was back to normal.
Environmental activists say that the spill likely began the middle of last week. Experts estimate its size at about 35,000 barrels, and Kuwaiti media suggest that the source may have been an aging pipeline from the Al-Khafji offshore oilfield. The Kuwaiti government has not publicly identified the size, source or timeline of the spill.
The Khafji field’s operator, Khafji Joint Operations, denied that any oil spill had been observed nearby. Instead, a spokesman pointed to reports of “oil leakage from an oil tanker in northeastern Arabian Gulf waters.”
Al-Khafji was discovered in 1960 and is held jointly by Aramco and by Kuwait’s state-owned oil company. It has a capacity of about 300,000 barrels per day, but it has been shuttered since 2015 due to a dispute between its operators. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait began discussions last year about restarting production at Khafji, but the prolonged OPEC output cut appears to have delayed this plan.
Whatever the source of the spill may be, the penalty for those responsible will be serious, warned Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sabah, the head of Kuwait’s Environment Public Authority. “There will be severe consequences to those responsible for this incident, and we will prosecute them,” he told the Kuwait Times.
However, environmental activist Khaled Al-Hajeri faulted the Kuwaiti government for insufficient communication with the public about the extent of the spill. “I blame the Environment Public Authority for neglecting its role in discovering the spill before it reached our coasts, and for not knowing its source,” he said, speaking to the Kuwait Times.
Al Zour is home to the Az Zour North Combined Cycle Power Plant; a new oil refinery project, expected to be the largest in the Middle East once completed; the headquarters of Saudi Arabia Chevron; and Al Khiran Resort, a high-end yacht club.