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Pollution devastates main Albanian oil field
FIER, Albania (AFP) Dec 01, 2004
In the center of a forest of oil rigs that ooze petrol, thousands of Albanians have become victims of the pollution that has devastated the county's main communist-era oil field, Patos-Marinza.

"We are all ill. A generation of our children is poisoned," said Hassan Grevi, 42, who has been on unemployment benefits for years and lives near the platform of an oil rig which is swimming in black liquid.

Some 2,000 oil wells were in action in the late 1970s near this southeastern town, in a region known as Patos-Marinza. Only 700 remain in working order today, most having been abandoned due to negligence during the communist years.

"The level of pollution in Patos-Marinza is very worrying for the inhabitants," said Adrian Jasimi, an adviser to the ministry of energy.

"We drink water but we don't even know if it's drinkable. In fact, we don't know what we're really drinking," said Agif, a 70-year-old pensioner who worked for 40 years in the oil industry.

"We've asked the authorities to intervene but nothing has been done."

Of 400 tonnes of oil extracted daily, up to two percent or eight tonnes leaks from the oil rigs' rusted networks of pipes. The air is choked by thick clouds of gas.

Albanians were barred from living in the area during the communist regime from the late 1940s until 1990. But those restrictions have been relaxed and around 4,000 people now live beneath the oil field's toxic clouds.

Children play among the wells and many locals complain of respiratory illnesses and headaches.

"Many kids have been injured while playing near the derricks. One of them was killed as he fell into a well," said Grevi, whose nephew had a leg amputated after such a fall.

The chemical tang of petrol and gas makes the air difficult to breathe.

"I often have headaches. In summer, the odour is unbearable. Many kids are contaminated and have respiratory illness," said Roudina, a 30-year-old mother of two.

"The government does nothing and aid that we receive is insufficient," said another local.

"Patos-Marinza is a sinister place. It will be so difficult to remove the damage and it will require a serious investment. Without foreign investment the problem will never be solved," said another.

For Albania, considered the poorest country of Europe, the rehabilitation of Patos-Marinza would appear to be all but impossible.

Since 1990, foreign companies including Austria's OVM and American West have invested 430 million dollars (324 million euros) to restart petrol production in Albania. The country's oil reserves are estimated at more than 440 million tonnes.

Oil productiion has fallen from two million tonnes a year in the late 1970s to about 400,000 tonnes now. Albania has to import 600,000 tonnes annually.

Foreign companies have also shown an interest in exploring for new fields and modernizing the existing infrastructure.

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