“The Board supervises all the oil companies in order to protect the environment,” the head of the Board, Samad Mohammed Hussein, told NIQASH. “We’ve issued a lot of orders to try and reduce any damage. We have also issued lots of fines. But unfortunately we have only been able to apply them to oil refineries that operate locally. We can’t force the exploration and extraction companies to do anything because they’re working directly with the Ministry of Natural Resources.”
“Iraqi Kurdistan shouldn’t be developed at the expense of the environment,” Hussein said, adding that he believed that the Board was becoming more serious about punishing infringements and forcing oil companies to do things like filter toxic emissions more efficiently.
Meanwhile just over the border from Iraqi Kurdistan in the disputed territory of Kirkuk, Imad Baqir al-Bayati, who heads the technical department for North Oil, part of Iraq proper’s Ministry of Oil, says that the Iraqi federal government plans to allocate US$50 million toward environmental protection in Kirkuk. Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Natural Resources appears to have no such plan – nobody would go on the record with a comment to NIQASH.
Currently, environmental activist Ali says, the best way to protect the region’s environment is to continue to use civil society groups and media coverage to pressure the oil companies to abide by local regulations. He also thinks filing suits against them in international courts might work. “If we leave this problem for another ten years, it’s just going to get worse,” Ali argues. “And then it will be very difficult to fix any problems.”