Report Summary

The report aims to identify the health, economic and social impact that has resulted from the operation of makeshift oil refineries in areas outside the control of the Syrian regime, in the northeast and northwest of Syria. To achieve this goal, the research team conducted a comprehensive analysis by reviewing relevant studies, survey reports, and conducting in-depth interviews. The interviews included a diverse sample of individuals involved in the operation of makeshift oil refineries, such as owners, supervisors, and workers. Perspectives were sought from production distributors, consumers, experts, specialists, and other stakeholders, including doctors, pharmacists, agronomists, farmers, and livestock breeders. Field observations were also undertaken by the team, which focused on areas where makeshift oil refineries are present, specifically in the governorates of Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Hasakah, Aleppo countryside, and Idlib.

The report provided an analysis of the state of Syrian oil following the 2011 revolution and the subsequent war, which led to a decline in the regime’s control over oil sources. It defined the challenges faced in oil production and the resulting oil crises, and how makeshift oil refineries emerged as an alternative. The report discussed the various types of these refineries, their geographical distribution, the legal framework they exist in, as well as the process of obtaining crude oil and the operational mechanisms employed by the refineries.

Makeshift oil refineries first emerged in 2012, in the vicinity of oil wells and their surrounding areas, where the regime’s control had receded following the discontinuation of oil derivatives supply. In Deir ez-Zor, the management of the oil wells witnessed several changes depending on the controlling authority. As the demand for oil derivatives grew, makeshift oil refineries expanded towards the northwest region.

The field report concentrated on examining the impact of operating makeshift oil refineries on the local communities. It highlighted the adverse effects on the health of refinery workers due to unsanitary working conditions, the absence of essential safety and security measures, and the lack of social protection for the workers, despite the significant health risks involved. Therefore, the report identified the most significant health hazards associated with this work, both for the workers themselves and for the residents in the nearby communities.

Medical doctors interviewed by the field research team, in areas where makeshift oil refineries were operating, confirmed that many health problems have emerged among the local population. For example, the mortality rate has increased significantly, as has the rate of diseases, especially respiratory diseases, cancers and kidney diseases. The doctors also highlighted the emergence of new diseases and the resurgence of previously eradicated diseases in the area.

The report also examined the impact of makeshift oil refineries on agricultural and animal husbandry. It was discovered that the local population in northern Syria has observed a significant decline in agricultural yields, particularly in areas near makeshift oil refineries and near  oil sources. Additionally, watersheds and rivers have been contaminated with oil due to spills occurring in the vicinity of these refineries. Consequently, these rivers are being referred to as “rivers of death.”

The operations of makeshift oil refineries have caused significant pollution, resulting in adverse effects on livestock. Livestock diseases have increased, leading to higher mortality rates among the animals. This can be attributed to factors such as contaminated drinking water, falling into oil ponds, and grazing in areas contaminated with oil and waste. Livestock farmers have complained about the pollution caused by these refineries and were concerned about their detrimental impact on pastures, crops, and the overall environment.

The proliferation of makeshift oil refineries has also destroyed local ecosystems, making them less diverse, resilient and adaptable. As a result, these communities have become more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including soil erosion, drought and extreme weather variability. They have also affected the social environment of local communities.  Despite the existence of a committee responsible for regulating the sale and purchase of petroleum materials, disputes over the ownership of land where these refineries are located have risen, particularly due to the widespread availability of weapons among the local population. Consequently, these refineries have become a catalyst for social conflicts.

You can read the entire study by clicking on the “Download” tab.