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Iran Oil Minister Denies Diverting Floods To Save Oil Wells

Oil production installation in Khuzestan, Iran surrounded by flood waters. April 2019

Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has refuted reports that allege the Oil Ministry has diverted flood water in Khuzestan province to protect oil wells in the area, causing damages to cities and villages.

Meanwhile, a board member of the National Iranian oil company previously told the official news agency IRNA that production has come to a halt at some oil fields in the province. But the oil minister said on Friday that oil production continues as usual and Iran will meet all its commitments to the market. But Zanganeh admitted some oil pipelines have been emptied to prevent spillage.

From the totality of fragmented reports it is clear that a measure of disruption has taken place in Iran’s oil production.

Entekhab news website, close to the Rouhani administration, on its Twitter page quoted Zanganeh as saying, "We won't endanger people's lives for a few barrels of oil. No decent individual would cause damages to the people, even for thousands of barrels of oil."

He added: "All of our oil installations in the Hour al-Azim wetlands have been encircled by flood water. There is no place in the area where there is no water."

The area in question normally produces more than 300,000 barrels per day.

Meanwhile, IRNA reported on Friday April 12 that "oil output has been reduced in some regions in order to protect the lives of flood-hit people" in the heavily affected oil-rich Khuzestan Province in southwestern Iran.

IRNA quoted Zanganeh as having said during his visit to Khuzestan that "Counter-revolutionaries have been spreading the rumor alleging that the Oil Ministry has prevented the flow of water into the oil installations" by diverting flood water into residential areas.

He stressed that all parts of the province are flooded and that the Oil Ministry and its officials have never meant to do any harm to the people.

He also emphasized that the Oil Ministry has tried to prevent contamination of flood water with oil as that would cause even more problems for the people and the environment.

Social media as well as some traditional media including newspapers reported during the week that people living near Hour al-Azim wetlands have been complaining that private oil companies have diverted flood water from the wetland into residential areas to protect their installations in the area.

Sharq newspaper reported that "Social media users have been talking about the National Iranian Oil Company's attempts to prevent the flow of water into the oil fields in Hour al-Azim wetlands, but officials say they did not divert the flow of floodwater…"

Sharq quoted several officials of the oil companies as having denied the rumors about diverting floodwater from Hour al-Azim. They also denied the reports that say oil installations have been damaged.

A street sign is seen submerged by water from floods in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, April 11, 2019
A street sign is seen submerged by water from floods in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, April 11, 2019

The officials said floodwater has damaged the roads to the oil wells and reservoirs. The roads are submerged and some of the wells have been shut down for safety reasons. "Three wells in the Southern Azadegan and Northern Yaran areas have also been shut down for the same reason. They can currently be reached only by boat," said one official.

"Access routes to the wells and dikes have been extensively damaged because of overflow of water and high winds that have been creating waves in the Hour al-Azim," he added. Khouzestan Province Governor-General Gholamreza Shariati confirmed the same in his interview with IRNA on Friday, adding that a dike was broken to divert the excess water toward Iraq.

Other officials told Sharq, "All of the branches of river Karkheh that were coming from highlands are running into the Hour al-Azim in their full capacity as usual."

The problem, according to Iranian media, is caused by the overflowing of Karkheh Dam and the running of floodwater toward the cities and the Hour al-Azim, a vast wetland that hosts oil fields shared by Iran and Iraq.

The extent of denials about the Iranian Oil Ministry not being involved in diverting water to save its installations is unusual. The officials however, have been trying to do at least two things: Telling the oil market and the rest of the world that it is business as usual in the Oil Ministry and oil output is not affected by floods, and trying to avert the hostile attitude of local people who blame the Oil Ministry and the Iranian government in general for losses and damages they have sustained during three weeks of torrential rains and floods.

The governor-general said, "in an unusual occurrence, the water from Karkheh joined the flood coming from the river Dez, causing massive floods in Ahwaz."

In the absence of reliable news on domestic media, most people, nearly half the population, turn to social media for news according to official estimates. Iranian government, which is used to controlling media, has virtually no control over the content of social media.

The government’s blocking efforts are easily circumvented by using anti-filter software. Subsequently, when the news on social media do not concur with the party line and official media, regime insiders such as Zanganeh call them counter-revolutionary; an outdated jargon that is not likely to change the minds of the people about the unreliability of state-controlled media.