The environmental threat posed by the millions of barrels of oil Iraq spilled into the Persian Gulf now appears less serious than the oil-well fires burning in Kuwait.
After Saddam Hussein's forces opened the taps of Kuwait's refineries, officials worried that the heavy oil would clog Saudi Arabia's desalination plants, which provide most of the nation's drinking water. But that hasn't happened.Most of Kuwait's oil wells were sabotaged by Saddam's troops. Between 80 percent and 85 percent of Kuwait's oil production capacity has been damaged, and the oil wells could burn for years. Environmentalists say that until firefighters can put out the hundreds of blazing wells, sulfurous, sooty clouds are likely to hang over thousands of square miles of Kuwait, Iran and other countries in the area.
Satellites have detected smoke in Iran, 750 miles from the former war zone, and "black rain" has been reported in southern Turkey, 600 miles away. Kuwaiti petroleum is high in sulfur, raising the acidity of the rain that filters through smoke clouds.
Three massive oil slicks now clog the gulf, but the largest stopped 15 miles north of Saudi Arabia's largest water desalination plant near Jubail, according to the Saudi Meteorology and Environmental Protection Administration.
The state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, says it has recovered more than 6.7 million gallons of oil from the spills. Between 60 million and 130 million gallons are now estimated to have been sent gushing into the waterway.