Once again, Iraq is caught off-guard by the inevitable. Oil spills keep happening in this area and, because there is not a better plan for handling such emergencies, the oily water is diverted and burned. Once there, it pollutes the water supply and causes catastrophic harm to people, plants and animals in these areas. Iraq needs to limit these occurrences by ensuring proper integrity and security of pipelines, by using safety valves where security is sparse, and by developing robust response plans for spills that do occur.
Once oil gets into our rivers and lakes, we have no good way to address it. It is a question of the least bad solution. The answer depends on local conditions and the nature of the spill. With heavy crude and good weather conditions, skimming and collecting the oil may be possible but there need to be adequate emergency response capabilities. Even in the best scenarios, collection rates are only around 10%.
Burning the oil in the river may be the least bad option, but significant air pollution is the inevitable result. In addition, toxic accelerators are often needed to start and maintain such a fire and there will always be toxic residues and unburnt oil left to deal with that may sink to the bottom or remain in the water column.
That is why Iraq must focus on preventing these spills at all costs!