In the northwestern province of Idlib, nighttime temperatures regularly dip below freezing. Some use a locally extracted and processed fuel; others resort to cutting down the trees from nearby pastures to use as firewood. Some sell the wood on the black market. Degradation of the local environment is just one side effect of the scarcity of heating sources.
Problems related to locally sourced fuel are increasing. On social media networks, it is common to see Syrians discussing those who have been killed or burned their factories or houses down after misusing the fuel in stoves or generators.
Sanae al-Marouf is a civilian collective that provides bread and flour to residents in the opposition-held countryside of Idlib. Earlier in the winter, it lost two of its staff members to a fire caused by cheap fuel at one of its bakeries.
In his office in Kafranbel in western Idlib province, Shadi Shaker, the group’s accountant, said that staffers “went to the bakery right away, only to find people of the village trying to put out the fire in the technical department of the bakery. Yassin Ali, the youngest brother of the bakery manager, died there with his friend.
“Nobody even cared about the loss of the energy generator and fuel tanks, which were valued at 2 million Syrian pounds ($14,000). It was nothing when compared with losing two guys.”
The fire started when the two young men forgot to switch off an electrical stove that was perched near the fuel tanks to keep the dense liquid from freezing.
“We do this every day,” said Hani, a staffer who witnessed the blaze. He said that the primitive local fuel freezes quickly in the cold winter temperatures, and to avoid this and keep the bakery running, employees periodically switch on an electric stove near the tanks to warm the room.
“We understand very clearly how risky is it to do this, but we have no other choice,” he said. “The accountant told us that the group does not have the ability to buy well-refined fuel because it is so expensive, and we need to keep the price of the bread steady” for residents.
High Prices, Low Grade
Hussain Alido is a former clerk in the government-run Banias refinery located in Latakia province, on the Syrian coast. He said that oil extracted by inexperienced and largely untrained drillers from wells under the control of the armed opposition in Raqqa, Hasakeh, Deir Ezzor and Hama is being sent to Idlib to be refined.
But the process is far from professional.
“Almost all of the results are unsatisfactory,” he said. “After they sort the bad from the worse, it is sold to people at prices according to the quality.”
Despite that none of the refineries produce a good product, prices for the primitive fuel are high due to scarcity of supply.
“The price runs between 6,000 and 12,000 Syrian pounds ($40-80 USD) for a 200 liter tank,” said Alido, adding, “It’s impossible to control all the oil derivatives, such as natural gas, through using these kinds of [primitive] refineries.”
But safety and quality here is seldom an option.
“People who use this fuel must be cautious. It is different from the safe and well-refined fuel of the Tartus and Banias refineries, which they used to deal with in the past,” Alido said.