Kuwait Faces New Oil Leak Near Ras al-Zour

Kuwait’s struggle with oil spills continues in September as the state news agency reports the clean-up of another leak off the southern coast on Monday, as the nation tries to juggle its  critical role in the future of natural gas markets as a key negotiator between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a diplomatic crisis that has lasted for months on end.

With the backing of the U.S. government, Kuwait is charged with mediating a dispute between two Sunni countries over their relations with Iran – a Shiite stronghold. 

The Kuwait National Petroleum Company is constructing the Middle East’s largest refinery in the Ras al-Zour area, which is where the leaks have been occurring over the past few weeks. The facility is slated to have 615,000 barrels per day of refining capacity, with a price tag of $11.5 billion.

The Ras al-Zour area is also home to two power and water desalination plants, both of which have so far remained unaffected by previous spills.

Kuwait has an Environment Public Authority that is charged with monitoring oil spills and related damage. That agency said the scope of the spill is still being assessed.

The head of the Environment Public Authority, Sheikh Abdullah al-Sabah, told the Associated Press after a previous incident: "There will be severe consequences to those responsible for this incident, and we will prosecute them."

The leak is also near an offshore field that is developed jointly by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, in their neutral zone. The field, Al Khafji, has a 50-kilometer pipeline running to the coast, and it was this pipeline that some industry experts said was the culprit for the spill.

Previous cleanup measures prioritized nearby waterways, water facilities, and power plants, according to KUNA. Chevron, which operates fields in both Kuwaiti and Saudi waters, along with specialist firm Oil Spill Response Limited, helped the Environment Public Authority with cleanups in August.

Zainab Calcuttawala for OilPrice.com