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Fuel to the Fire: Satellite Imagery Captures Burning Oil Tanks Libya

June 18, 2018

By Wim Zwijnenburg

Translations: Русский

Recent eruptions of violence in Libya’s so-called ‘oil cresent’ between armed forces loyal to Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and rival  armed groups resulted in another row of burning oil tanks.  In the areas around oil terminals at Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, clashes continued for days. As a result of the shelling, various oil tanks at the Fida Oil Farm, west of the Ras Lanuf oil terminal were hit and caught fire. These clashed demonstrates the dangers associated with fighting in and nearby industrial facilities storing large quanitities of potential hazardous substances and the wider risks associated with a chemical incident in armed conflicts. This blog will provide a brief outline on open-source reporting and satellite imagery from the area and a brief background the ongoing targeting of the oil infrastructure in Libya and their associated wider socio-economic and environmental consequences.

First attack on Ras Lanuf

On Thursday June 14, oil tanker nr. 2 at the Fida oil farm was reported burning, first mentioned on social media and later confirmed through geo-location.

This was also later confirmed with NASA and ESA Sentinel 2 imagery.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation put out a warning for a looming ‘environmental disaster’, as the fire threatened nearby oil storages, and lacked sufficient resources to contain the fire. The facility has the capacity to store over 980.000 barrels of crude oil. Images were put online by the NOC, showing the destruction at the storage facility from the initial shelling.

Second strike

On Sunday June 17, another attack resulted in Tanker No.12 catching fire. Satellite imagery from NASA and Planet Labs captured the burning oil tank.

Planet Labs imagery from June 17, 2018 showed the intensity of the firesat  the Fida oil farm and the wider smokeplume heading eastwards.



In statement put on on Monday June 18, the NOC warned of spread of the fires to nearby oil storage tanks.

This overview by Twitter User @mazighie provides an overview of the oil tanks conditions at the Fida farm that have been damaged in previous attacks and the ones that are currently burning

Repeated targeting of oil infrastructure in Libya

Oil facilities have been targeted on multiple occasions during the ongoing conflict by a number of warring parties. In particular the so-called Islamic State had an appetite for destruction, and ordered direct attacks against oil facilities, as analysed in our previous Bellingcat article from 2016.  Various attacks have taking place in 2017 and  2018 against oil pipelines coming from the south towards the Es Sider oil storages

As demonstated using open-source data on ship movements by Tankertrackers, the facilities at Ras Lanuf and Es Sider are an important oil hub for Libya’s oil exports.

Environmental damage and health risks

Apart from the economic damage, as the country lacks income from oil revenues, there have been repeated concerns over the wider environmental health risks caused by the destruction of oil facilities. Burning crude oil tanks and attacks on pipelines could have larger environmental risks for nearby communities and the fragile ecosystem.

Oil fires release harmful substances into the air – including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and lead. These can be transported over a large area before deposition in soils, potentially causing severe short-term health effects for people and wildlife, especially people with pre-existing respiratory problems. Damage to oil storage sites and processing facilities can lead to the release of a range of dangerous substances. Groundwater contamination can threaten agricultural land and the people who rely on ground and surface water for irrigation, drinking, and domestic purposes. Long-term exposure to hydrocarbon pollutants may lead to respiratory disorders, liver problems, kidney disorders and cancer.

This reflects the wider problems caused by conflict-pollution, and these concerns have been addressed in last year’s UN Environmental Assembly’s resolution on conflict pollution, calling for States to provide support to the relevant Libyan authorities with assessing and cleaning-up pollution at these location and ensure protection to prevent and mitigate further risks to the environment and human health.



Bellingcat’s research for this publication was supported by PAX for Peace.

Wim Zwijnenburg

Wim Zwijnenburg is a Humanitarian Disarmament Project Leader for PAX.  He works on conflict and environment related issues in the Middle East, the use and proliferation of emerging military technologies and arms trade @wammezz

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  1. Rob Heusdens

    Another ‘good’ job done by NATO interventionists, in order to ‘protect Libyan people’ shoot down their government and leader, install fake democracy, and hand them over to western-proxy terrorist forces. Some claim, the war in Libya did not go ‘as planned’, but I would state the opposite: this chaos and turmoil is exactly what was planned for, it is a deliberte attempt to destabilize the country which will cost decaded to be back on its feet. There were other options available for resolving the Libyan crisis, which had costed far less blood shed, but NATO (Sarkozy, Clinton) pushed for regime change, in order to serve their own interests, not that of Libyan people….

    • I-err

      Sure it was an intentional plan of European NATO allies to destroy one of their few few lines of few gas and fuel pipelines – the alternative to the Russian pipelines, that were threatened by political struggles between Ukraine and Russia over gas prices.

      • Rob Heusdens

        Do you know that a lot of african nations still use the france franc as valuta? So that probably explains why Sarkozy aimed at toppling Khadaffi and his plan for introducing a gold backed african dinar, despite his election campaign was financed by Libya…. At least we know that the official “reason” for supporting the rebels (“protecting civilians”) doesn’t make any sense. If Khadaffi had crushed the armed rebellion, it would have costed some lifes of armed fighters, but it would have saved thousands of life in the aftermath of the still unresolved conflict in Syria, which exactly went about as the leaders of Libya had warned us about, including a large immigrant crisis (this alone has lead to the death of thousands of civilians).
        Despite this, I am not defending uncritically the Khadaffi ruling of Libya, as his ruling was not without errors and problems even when it also had its merits, and there was a need for political change in Libya anyhow, but the way this whole thing evolved into the current nightmare and tragedy, could have been prevented. But neither USA nor France wanted a political or diplomatic solution, and that is what caused this tragedy to happen. Currently, there is no rule of law in Libya, and the country is split in various rivaling factions. Major projects which were developed before 2011, like building a highspeed rail network, a complete new city, the final stages of the great manmade river project and the introduction of african dinar have since then been stalled, a large portion of Libyan foreign deserves have gone missing or where taken from Libya, so essentially the development of the country has been stalled indefinately.
        PS. What do you mean with Libyan gas and oil pipelines, are you suggesting that NATO countries own these pipelines, and not Libya? Can you back that claim up with evidence?

    • Rob Heusdens

      @– Some yes, undoubtly, but certainly not all. Not reported by western media where the mass demonstrations of supporters of the jamahirya that took the streets in many cities. This mass rallies were gigantic, and showed that many libyans still supported the jamahirya.

      Many of the rebel supporters now regret the ‘revolution’ even happened, given the way it unfolded. It was a big error, because NATO (and esp. Sarkozy – France has an interest in keeping the franc as valuta alive in africa, Libya planned introducing a gold dinar, which would rival the franc) pushed for regime change on false grounds. Khadaffi was not launching an act of genocide, but only was fighting the armed rebellion. Armed rebelions against a government are repressed in ANY sovereign country. But the west had already decided to make the former government illegal and acknowledge a ‘transitional government’ (which then would become in power without any Libyan voting for it!) based on false reports of human rights violations (the initial victims fell due to armed fighters attacking military barracks).

      A political transition (stepdown of the government) without bloodshed should have been brokered. Although the Libyan jamahirya did good things for Libya, not everything was very well, and there were many that have complaints (but: which country doesn’t have that?)

      There was already a constitution in the making, and they could have organized a referendum for voting a bout a new constitution and simply stop any violence from both parties involved. That was the mandate about, not about regime change..!

      The African Union should have brokered a dialogue and political solution, it was not the business of the western (former colonialist) nations to mix in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

  2. Paul

    Please call them Tank Farms not Oil Farms.The article was of great interest as I am a retired Petroleum Inspector..


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