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It hardly seems possible, but 20 years ago, this month, the oil fires in Kuwait were still burning brightly. As we wade through the aftermath of Macondo and recent pipeline spills, it is worth remembering that the huge well control effort mounted by the international oil and gas community in Kuwait was one of our greatest achievements.
For those of you who don’t remember (and there can’t be many), as Iraqi troops were withdrawing from Kuwait in front of the advancing coalition forces in 1991, special forces from Iraq torched some 750 Kuwaiti oil wells. The results were cataclysmic. The oil fires burned for more than eight months, consuming an estimated 5–6 million bpd of crude oil and 2.4–3.6 Bcfd of natural gas. More than a billion barrels of oil was eventually burned. The oil that did not ignite formed into more than 300 large lakes containing 22.5 million bbl of oil, cumulatively. An additional 10 million bbl of oil poured into the Persian Gulf, severely impacting marine life. Between late February, when the first fires were ignited, and Nov. 6, when the last fire was extinguished, smoke plumes containing a hazardous mixture of gaseous emissions and particulate matter engulfed a downwind area as large as 150,000 sq km, leaving many exposed to the plumes with lingering health issues.1
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