BBC News Arabic, Breathless, reveals oil pollution from COP28 hosts puts health of millions at risk

BBC News Arabic investigation, Breathless, reveals oil pollution from COP28 hosts, UAE, puts health of millions at potential risk



A BBC News Arabic investigation has revealed toxic air pollution from some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including BP, Shell and ADNOC, is spreading hundreds of kilometres from their oil fields, putting the health of millions of people at risk across the Gulf, Iran and Iraq.

This toxic pollution is caused by flaring, a wasteful and almost entirely avoidable process used to burn off excess gas produced during oil drilling.

The investigation also; reveals newly commissioned scientific research detailing the level and range of pollution across the Middle East, COP 28 hosts the UAE’s own population are likely affected by flaring, the impact of gas flaring on people’s health.

Oil companies and governments responsible for these emissions do not publish data about the concentrations of toxic chemicals released by the flares, so the BBC commissioned its own scientific analysis of gas flaring data from Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The BBC World Service first investigated gas flaring in Iraq for BBC News Arabic’s award-winning 2022 film Under Poisoned Skies. Now, a new documentary, Breathless, which releases today on the BBC News Arabic YouTube channel and BBC iPlayer, investigates how the toxic pollution of flaring travels across the Gulf.

To do so, the BBC worked with environmental scientists Arianet to model the weather patterns and publicly available data about the volume and toxicity of the gas flares.

Satellite data analysed by the BBC shows that oil fields in the UAE, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran, which supply 15% of world demand, are releasing or partially burning 36.6 billion cubic metres of gas into the atmosphere. Research by the BBC reveals that the pollutants produced by gas flaring, which include as PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone in Iraq and Iran carried hundreds of miles across the Gulf and exceeded World Health Organisation limits in many cases.

The BBC’s research also suggested that flaring from COP28 host UAE oil and gas fields is likely affecting its own population, despite its claims to be a global leader on the climate. Its leading oil and gas company Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), whose CEO, Sultan al-Jaber, is COP28 president, committed to phasing out the practice of routine gas flaring 20 years ago.

However, the BBC has found there is a substantial level of flaring occurring at sites owned or operated by ADNOC which is reaching populated areas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Flaring is meant to be an emergency measure only, but the BBC’s evidence indicates that flares in Iraq, Iran and the UAE are burning gas every day and in some cases around the clock.

Pollution from the flares can cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as asthma, lung and heart diseases, cancer and a range of other health problems. Respiratory disease is one of the leading causes of death in the region, with the rates of asthma in UAE amongst the highest in the world.

A respiratory doctor working in the UAE, with experience in other countries, told the BBC:

“I was shocked to know that all through the year, the pollution is very, very high. Early on I was like, why is everybody coughing here?

“[Normally] if you have a flu, you cough for four or five days and then the cough is gone. In the UAE it takes a week, two weeks and sometimes we need to give them inhalers to remove a simple cough.”

High pollution levels are also familiar to neighbouring Kuwait. The region regularly suffers with dust storms which are often blamed for the high levels of air pollution.

Dr Barak Alahmad, research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and his team spent two years analysing Kuwait’s air and dust to find out where the pollution was coming from. They found that only 40% of pollution came from desert sands, while 42% of these pollutants came from sources that involve power plants and the oil industry. Air pollution in both Kuwait and the UAE is also contributed to by high levels of traffic.

“This is manmade air pollution that we can regulate, we can reduce, we can in fact eliminate,” he told the BBC.

The BBC’s model reveals that some of this pollution is coming from flares 140km away in Iraq. The biggest source of flaring in Iraq is from a giant oil field managed by BP and PetroChina.

A doctor, who asked the BBC for anonymity and regularly speaks at health conferences around the world about respiratory disease, told BBC Arabic that all the residents of Basra could have “chest and respiratory diseases” after around “five or six years.”

These new findings follow BBC News Arabic’s 2022 investigation into the deadly impact of this flaring on children living within 10km of the flares inside Iraq.

Ali Hussein Julood, a19-year-old survivor of childhood Leukaemia and activist, documented his life in North Rumaila, Southern Iraq, for the BBC in 2021. Rumaila, contracted by BP, is the largest of Basra’s oil fields and was found by the BBC to flare more gas than any other site in the world.

Following that investigation, the Iraqi government bought forward their end date for routine flaring to 2026. And the government acknowledged, for the first time, a link between the emissions from flaring and high levels of cancer in local communities.

Julood died of Leukaemia in April this year, and his father attended the BP AGM meeting in his place to directly confront then CEO, Bernard Looney with his story. He told the BBC that his son's life was sacrificed for the company's record profits.

ADNOC told the BBC that across all their operations, they are focussed on their goal of eliminating routine flaring by 2030. They also pointed out that they flare at a lower rate than the global industry average.

BBC analysis of satellite data found that the country hasn’t reduced its flaring over the past decade. Neither the COP28 team nor the UAE’s government commented on the BBC’s findings.

Shell told the BBC: “Basrah Gas Company’s sole purpose is to capture gas that would otherwise be flared from three giant oilfields, which are operated by other companies.

It captures more than 63% of the gas from those fields but does not have the capacity to capture all of it.”

BP told the BBC they are helping the operator of the giant Rumaila oil field they jointly manage to reduce its flaring and emissions. Iraq’s Oil Ministry declined to comment on the BBC’s findings. Kuwait’s National Oil Company and Environment ministry also declined to comment. Iran’s National Oil company did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.



BBC News Arabic Investigations: Breathless is available now on BBC iPlayer.

Audiences outside of the UK can watch BBC News Arabic Investigations: Breathless on the BBC News Arabic and BBC World Service YouTube channels.

About BBC News Arabic

BBC News Arabic offers independent and impartial news to over 32 million people weekly worldwide. It is the BBC’s second largest and oldest non-English language service, and launched on 3 January 1938.

BBC Arabic Investigations from BBC News Arabic provide original investigative reporting with a global outlook to the Arab speaking world. Documentaries produced by the service’s award-winning investigations team can be watched on the BBC News Arabic Investigations site and on BBC iPlayer.

About BBC World Service

BBC World Service delivers news content around the world in English and 41 other language services, on radio, TV, and digital. BBC World Service reaches a weekly audience of 318m. As part of BBC World Service, BBC Learning English teaches English to global audiences.

Source BBC One

November 29, 2023 11:58am ET by BBC One  


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