A U.S. soldier stands night guard near the Iraq border in February 1991 as oil wells, set alight by retreating Iraqi soldiers, burn in Kuwait.

A U.S. soldier stands night guard near the Iraq border in February 1991 as oil wells, set alight by retreating Iraqi soldiers, burn in Kuwait in the disant horizon.
Photo Credit: (Andy Clark/Reuters

History: November 6, 1991 Canadians cap the last oil fire in the Gulf War

In 1990, after a long-standing feud with neighbouring Kuwait, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded the country.

Iraq had accused Kuwait of slant drilling into Iraq’s Rumaila oil field, and then of overproducing oil beyond OPEC treaty limits, causing a drop in world oil prices.

This was the beginning of the Gulf War.  As the American led allies became involved and began advancing toward Iraq, the retreating Iraqis began setting fire to the oil wells and to lakes and trenches of oil they had created.

By February 1991, the fires were ignited by the retreating Iraqis in an effort to destroy Kuwait’s oil infrastructure and to slow the advancing allies. To some extent the delay worked, but the fires of over 600 wells and oil ponds created an environmental disaster of epic proportions.

Canadian oil-well fire experts SafetyBOSS of Calgary, were the most successful of all international companies trying to douse the intense high pressure oil fires.
Canadian oil-well fire experts SafetyBOSS of Calgary, were the most successful of all international companies trying to douse the intense high pressure oil fires. © CBC

Specialized oil well experts were brought in to quell the fires.  At first four major US companies were contracted and some from other countries including Kuwait, and then the Canadians were called.

Canada extinguishes the most, and the last fire

SafetyBOSS of Calgary  became the leading effort, and although called in last, ended up capping the most wells,  although all efforts were initially slowed by landmines around the sites which had to be cleared first at a high degree of danger.

Three Kuwait fire veterans comments

SafetyBOSS CEO_ Mike Miller in 1991. The Canadian company put out 180 fires in just 200 days, a rate none of the other experts could match
SafetyBOSS CEO_ Mike Miller in 1991. The Canadian company put out 180 fires in just 200 days, a rate none of the other experts could match © CBC

Several methods were used by the companies to put out the fires. One involved massive use of ordinary seawater pumped in from the Gulf by reversing the flow of the oil pipelines. Others involved using explosives in a sudden pressure wave to blow out the fires, while others involved use of jet engines mounted on tanks to blow out the fires in a different manner.

Hundreds of oil wells and burning lakes and trenches of oil were ignited by retreating Iraqi forces, blackening the skies as millions of berrels of oil and trillionof metres of gas were burned every day.
Hundreds of oil wells and burning lakes and trenches of oil were ignited by retreating Iraqi forces, blackening the skies as millions of berrels of oil and millions more metres of gas were burned every day. © US Army, Tech. SGT Perry Heimer-wiki

SafetyBOSS  were greatly aided in their efforts by their use of their own creation of the “Smokey” fire trucks and systems.

In the end the Canadian company capped 180 of the some 600 wells, setting a rapid pace the other companies could not match. The fires, which had estimated would burn for three to five years, were put out in a matter of months.

The last fire was put out by Canada’s SafetyBOSS on November 6, 1991. The company had set up its equipment and plan so that the last fire would be extinguished by the push of a button, and prepared the honour for the Emir of Kuwait.

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