- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 25 (UPI) — Boots & Coots International Well Control Inc. will handle fire-fighting responsibility in Iraq's al-Ramallah oil field, company officials reported Tuesday.

The Houston company has been subcontracted by Kellogg Brown & Root Co., which was chosen by the Department of Defense late Monday to supply fire-fighting and well control services in Iraq. KBR, also headquartered in Houston, originally was contacted by the Pentagon to develop a plan for extinguishing potential oil well fires in Iraq.

Boots & Coots, which was founded in 1978 by Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews — former associates of legendary oil well fire-fighter, the late Red Adair — has sent teams of well-control and engineering specialists to Kuwait. After the Gulf War ended in 1991, the company fought about 240 of more than 700 burning wells in that country.

At present only seven wells have been reported ablaze in southern Iraq and none are burning in the country's northern oil fields.

"We have surveyed these wells and are preparing to mobilize the equipment," Brian Krause, president of Boots & Coots, said in a written statement. "We will begin stabilization of the wells once the location around the wells is secure."

Meanwhile Pentagon officials also said they have assigned temporary responsibility for supervising Iraq's oil fields to the Army Corps of Engineers. After the wellhead fires are extinguished, the corps will assess the damage done to Iraq's oil facilities by the fires, other acts of sabotage and possible neglect over the years that United Nations sanctions have restricted the country's oil production.

The tasks involved include putting out the oil well fires as quickly as possible, assessing damage to oil facilities, cleaning up oil spills and other environmental pollution, providing engineering designs, repairing or rebuilding damaged equipment, operating the facilities and distributing products refined from the crude oil.

A team of fire-fighters from Kuwait's national oil company already have begun attempts to put out the burning wells in al-Ramallah — even though Iraqis loyal to Saddam Hussein continue to wage surprise attacks on coalition troops in the area.

Along with the seven wells burning in al-Ramallah at this time, more might have been been booby-trapped by retreating Iraqi forces, according to members of the Kuwaiti oilfield team, who photographed one wellhead to which explosives and a trip wire had been attached.

Estimates vary on how long it will take to put out the existing wellhead fires and dispose of the mines and other explosives, oil fire-fighting experts told United Press International late last week. However, barring further developments, the task should be accomplished much more quickly than the nine months it took to extinguish the unprecedented wellhead fires started in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War.

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