Photographic evidence of the Iraqi regime's destruction in Kuwait from August 1990 through February 1991
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The Retreat: Oil Lakes

Not all the oil gushing from blazing wells burned and not all the exploded wells caught fire.

Oil from exploded unignited wells, pipelines, and storage tanks formed enormous viscous black lakes ranging from a few centimeters to 2 meters deep and up to a mile long. There were more than 300 giant wet oil lakes plus a few thousand small ones covering a combined 49 sq km (12,108 acres) and oozing across roads and streets, but mainly pooling in the desert and contaminating around 40 million tons of soil and sand.

Oil mist fallout from the burning wells contaminated an even greater area of land.

Over time, thousands of dry oil lakes formed on 5% of Kuwait’s desert area. They were made up of tarcrete layers – solid mixtures of oil, soot, sand, and pebbles – the result of oil lake seepage, oil mist fallout, and the seawater spray used to quench many of the fires.

Remediation of most tarcrete areas remains to be done at a projected cost of more than US$3 billion. Below the tarcrete, the presence of mines and UXO complicates cleanup efforts.

After liberation, Kuwait's parent oil company (KPC) succeeded in draining more than 130 of the wet lakes. This was part of a larger recovery project designed by KPC employees who were outside of Kuwait during the occupation. Called the Al-Awda Project (The Return), it was set up to develop plans for overcoming such potential disasters as massive oil fires and crippled oil production. Thanks to Al-Awda, the Kuwaiti oil industry's recovery was relatively quick given the overwhelming magnitude of the damage.

 
Oil Lake
Oil lakes wrecked a large part of the fragile Kuwaiti desert ecosystem. Camels, lizards, chickens, wild birds, dragonflies, and beetles starved, drowned, or were poisoned. Plant life and underground fresh water were also adversely affected. From half to two-thirds of the oil released became lakes.
Oil Lake

Skip to   Intro 5: Invasion/Occupation  8: Gulf War  10: Oil Fires/Property Damage  14: Highway of Death  15: Firefighting/Pollution  17: Martyrs  18: Recovery  23: Geographical Maps