Targeting Energy Infrastructure

Energy infrastructure is often targeted during conflict for short-term strategic gain. Oil recovery and fuel processing, storage and transit infrastructure have all been common targets, as have power generating installations. The volume of potential pollutants present at such sites can result in significant air, water and soil pollution when attacked, with the potential for transboundary harm. 

Case study: Libyan oil depot, 2014
Firefighters unable to control a huge fire at an oil storage depot at the port of Es Sider in Ras Lanuf, which began during fighting between rival militias. Credit: Reuters.

Firefighters unable to control a huge fire at an oil storage depot near Tripoli begun during fighting between rival militias. Credit: Reuters.

The toppling of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 left Libya in a prolonged state of civil war, as different political factions, tribes and militant Islamic groups vied for control in the country. Oil tankers and facilities across the country have regularly come under attack in the fighting and in August 2014, Tripoli’s main fuel depot was deliberately targeted during fighting between rival militias.

The depot contained diesel and petrol and the ensuing fire spread rapidly from the first storage tank to four neighbouring tanks. Fire-fighting teams were unable to tackle the blaze because of ongoing fighting in the vicinity of the site. A large black plume of aerosols, soot and particulate matter was generated by the fire dispersing hydrocarbon combustion products such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and benzene. 

Key issues
  • The perceived strategic importance of energy infrastructure makes it a common target in military campaigns, in spite of the predictable environmental consequences.
  • There is a need for greater consideration of the environmental consequences of operations against such sites during the planning of military operations.
  • In common with other industrial facilities, the deliberate targeting of oil and energy infrastructure poses grave environmental and civilian health risks, destruction can also lead to knock on effects that increase the suffering of the civilian population due to the loss of energy supplies.
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