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Experts Say Iraqi-Caused Oil Spill Could Become World’s Worst With AM-Gulf-Spill-Impact, Bjt

January 25, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ As Saddam Hussein’s forces spread an oil slick across the Persian Gulf, industry experts said the extent of the damage would depend upon the way the oil was being spilled.

The amount of harm done will depend upon whether Saddam is only opening empty oil storage tanks into the sea or is pumping oil out of wells and piping it into the water, said John Lichtblau, president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York.

It was not clear how much crude oil was dumped. Saudi officials said it could be more than 100,000 barrels per day, but U.S. officials said Saddam was spilling millions of barrels of oil.

That would make Saddam’s slick far larger than the Exxon Valdez spill, which was about 260,000 barrels. The world’s largest spills have been about 2 million barrels.

″The big question is whether he’s just draining the tanks or tying it to operative oil wells,″ Lichtblau said. ″It could be tied to the oil wells, and then of course it could go on.″

The company that cleaned up big Alaskan and California oil spills said Friday it was contacting U.S. government officials about cleaning up oil floating outside Iraqi-held areas.

″We could be mobilized in 24 hours and could have material on site in 48 hours. In two or three days we could have most of the sensitive areas boomed off,″ Peter Leathard, president of VECO International Inc., said by phone from Anchorage, Alaska.

VECO was the main contractor in charge of cleaning the 11 million-gallon spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 and last year’s 400,000- gallon spill from the tanker American Trader off Huntington Beach, Calif.

Environmentalists said the oil will surely kill thousands of birds and marine animals, contaminate drinking water and threaten the region’s lucrative commercial shrimping industry.

They fear that the spill also will force Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations to shut down desalination plants which must have clean water to operate.

″Saddam Hussein is committing an unconscionable act of eco-terrorism,″ declared Sue Merrow, president of the Sierra Club. ″This could destroy the gulf for decades.″

The Saudi military said the oil was flowing steadily from pumps at the Sea Island terminal, 10 miles offshore from Kuwait’s main petroleum refinery and loading complex at Al Ahmadi, just south of Kuwait City.

The Sea Island terminal has a capacity far greater than 100,000 barrels a day, because it was designed to fill oil tankers that carry up to 1.5 million barrels each, Lichtblau said.

He didn’t know the precise amount of crude the terminal could handle, but said the Iraqis could easily bring enough oil wells on line to pump 100,000 barrels of crude daily.

″I don’t know what limits it to 100,000 barrels per day,″ Lichtblau said. ″It potentially could be a lot more.″

If Iraqis keep pumping oil from the ground and piping it into the gulf, allied forces could stop the slick’s spread by bombing the pipelines, Lichtblau said.

Otherwise, Saddam could hamper gulf naval operations and use the oil slick as a bargaining chip.

″He could say, ‘I’ll just keep pouring oil until the gulf is not navigable anymore and becomes a major environmental distaster,’ ″ Lichtblau said. ″A ship can go through oil slicks. That wouldn’t prevent a ship from operating, but it becomes more and more difficult to operate.″

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