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Turning a battlefield back into an oilfield
Oilfields often present tough challenges, from remote locations to extreme temperatures. But at Majnoon in southern Iraq, every day presents a deadly threat from unexploded munitions after years of conflict. A remarkably brave team is clearing this lethal debris, allowing Majnoon to return to significant production.
Tony Wyles, former British army bomb disposal officer, crosses a bumpy, arid dirt track at the wheel of a green buggy. He is part a team of highly trained workers to safely clear the potentially deadly land that surrounds him. This is allowing the vast Majnoon oilfield to return to production.
“It’s a harsh environment,” says Tony. “There is a constant risk, but our rigorous operating procedures help keep it to a minimum.”
The Iraq-Iran war lasted eight years and saw shifting lines of engagement in Majnoon. Thirty years later, this makes it impossible to calculate where munitions lie.
The team uses all-terrain vehicles to cover the 864 square km of Majnoon, as they electronically map the landscape’s features
The team introduced the use of heavily armoured bulldozers and loaders adapted for the project to meet NATO specifications.
These were certified by third-party specialists through blast-testing.
In the areas around drilling sites and designated access tracks throughout Majnoon, 27 of these armoured vehicles excavate and sift a 40-centimetre (16-inch) layer of soil to remove any explosives.
Almost all the unexploded munitions at Majnoon lie within 40 centimetres of the surface.
Wsam Hammad Shihab, one of several hundred Iraqis employed on the project, drives a bulldozer.
He moves the vehicle with intense concentration as his team members watch from a safe distance.
But, as Tony explains, adding metal 16-millimetre armour around the bulldozer and a plough to the front gives Wsam added protection.
In fact, workers have spent over a million hours on the project without a single injury since clearance started in 2010.
An unmanned helicopter carries a camera to film areas considered sites too dangerous for people to visit
In its first three years, the team cleared around 22 km² (8.5 miles²) of land and destroyed over 12,000 munitions.
Twenty-one production wells are already in place in the field. Now engineers are preparing to start seismic testing to identify new well locations. This process involves laying out sensors then shooting out sound waves which bounce off rock layers below the surface to create x-ray images of underground reservoirs.
The increase in production is providing revenue that could help further regenerate Iraq. Tony has already seen positive change around Majnoon since the field resumed production.
“Over the last three years I have seen tarmac laid on roads, and sewage and water pipelines built,” he says. With the country on the road to recovery, Tony’s team are helping unlock Majnoon’s contribution.
Shell is the operator of Majnoon with a 45% interest, with Petronas (30%) and Iraq’s Missan Oil Company holding the rest.