An oil company’s callous disregard for villagers’ lives
by John Bergen
On Wednesday, 24 September, members of our team traveled for the first time to Kormor village, where Dana Gas began drilling for oil and natural gas in 2008. Our first stop was at the local school, where we met the principal, Abdul Munem Mohamed Mahmud. Twenty-one girls and boys attend there. Dana Gas built it three years ago, but Abdul showed us where vibrations from drilling tore a crack down the side of the building large enough to show daylight. The company promised to build a clinic and provide other services, but now claims that the Kurdish government is responsible for providing compensation. The area government representative denies the company’s claim.
Dana Gas has damaged more than just buildings. When they arrived, they blocked off the road connecting Kormor to the highway, forcing villagers to travel twenty minutes out of their way. Oil trucks have nearly destroyed the road. After an hour of dodging two-foot-deep potholes, I understood some of Abdul's frustration when he told us that the road prevents the two other teachers from making the hour-and-a-half drive from Chamchammal every day.
After visiting the school, we drove to the house of Saman, the village leader. He told us that Dana Gas has brought good things to Kormor— many people are employed by Dana Gas to provide security. But then he described how the drilling had made the wells run dry and affected the springs. He said, “The water used to taste sweet here. Now it is a different color and tastes bitter. ” His wife informed us that gas fumes made many people sick, and when we left their house, we could smell the fumes.
As we drove away from Kormor, I thought of where I used to live in northeast Ohio, in the United States. There, companies destroy highways with trucks and then build their own private roads. Corporations drain streams, contaminate wells, and poison the air. Some people find jobs, but the companies never provide as many jobs as they promise. Kormor felt too much like home.
Of course, in the U.S., we have laws and protections that Saman and his family do not have. But when Saman's wife described headaches and lung problems from the gas vapors, I thought of my friends back in Ohio getting sick. Across continents, oil and gas companies are poisoning us. Last year, Dana Gas was declared responsible for the poisonous flooding of the village of Fares in Egypt. From Ohio to Kurdistan, and everywhere in between, corporations pick on small, isolated communities and try to take everything from them.
But we resist. Saman has spoken repeatedly with government leaders and Dana Gas representatives, and we hope to accompany him and others in the future. Communities continue to do amazing work resisting tar sands extraction, and my friends in West Virginia support people in prison who still do not have clean water after Freedom Industries poisoned the Elk River in January 2014. Let us continue to turn our love for each other into acts of resistance.