ISIS eyes oil targets beyond Syria stronghold: US official

Oil infrastructure, which Russia's Defence Ministry says is controlled by ISIS militants, is seen hit by Russian air strikes in this still image from a video released on Nov 18.
Oil infrastructure, which Russia's Defence Ministry says is controlled by ISIS militants, is seen hit by Russian air strikes in this still image from a video released on Nov 18. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is looking at potentially vulnerable oil assets in Libya and elsewhere outside its Syria stronghold, where the militant group controls about roughly 80 per cent of the oil and gas fields, a senior US official said on Tuesday (Dec 15).

The official, who briefed reporters in Washington on condition of anonymity, said the United States was carefully examining who controlled oil fields, pipelines, trucking routes and other infrastructure in places that could be vulnerable to attack.

Those include in Libya and the Sinai Peninsula, the official added.

"They are looking at the oil assets in Libya and elsewhere. We'll be prepared," the official said.

The United States has estimated the ISIS was selling as much as US$40 million (S$56 million) a month of oil, which was then spirited on trucks across the battle lines of the Syrian civil war and sometimes farther.

The United States recently targeted fuel trucks, part of a broadening of its strikes on ISIS oil wealth that the US official said had showed anecdotal signs of raising the costs of ISIS oil operations.

"The costs of the operation have gone up and the ability to move it around has gone down," the official said.

Crude oil prices are barely above recent lows set during the depths of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Worldwide, oil prices have declined over 50 per cent since they began dropping in June 2014.

Low oil prices could be a double-edged sword in the fight against the ISIS, helping reduce revenue the group gets in Syria but potentially accentuating vulnerabilities as companies elsewhere lay off workers.

Some of the oil workers in ISIS-held territory were foreigners, the official said.

"The reduction in oil prices actually adds another element of insecurity because companies have less money to spend on a variety of things," the official added.

"There are more oil and gas employees who are out of work so they're easier targets to recruit around the world."