ISIS employs thousands of foreign workers to keep its oil flowing

According to an Iraq Oil Report story published Monday, the Islamic State militant group at one point employed thousands of workers to keep crude pumping from rudimentary wells captured in the oil fields of Iraq and Syria.

The new report, which details ISIS oil operations that were previously reported to bring in as much as $50 million per month, says records obtained in a U.S. raid on the group show that close to 2,000 workers helped the militants pump cheap crude from more than 200 wellheads across the region.

About 1,600 of those workers came from other countries, with global layoffs in the oil industry and competitive salaries offered by ISIS helping the group’s recruiting efforts, U.S. State Department officials told Iraq Oil Report.

The records released by the U.S. government also show that despite a stepped-up air-strike campaign against ISIS oil infrastructure throughout 2014, the group was still able to keep the crude flowing. Some facilities targeted in air strikes were brought back online after just a few days.

Many wellheads remained operable despite being damaged — natural pressure kept the crude bubbling out of the ground, and workers resorted to open-pit mining to keep some wells producing.

The desperation to maintain the flow of oil was warranted — a State Department official told Iraq Oil Report that the new records show oil revenue making up nearly half of the group’s profits.

U.S. officials told Iraq Oil Report that the total revenue ISIS received from oil production, at most $40 million per month, was lower than previous estimates. The story also noted that, according to sources from across the region, the group fetched between $10 and $20 per barrel for its oil.

Using those figures, Iraq Oil Report estimated ISIS production would have to reach about 70,000 barrels per day at its peak. Some experts questioned that number, which would rival the output of some of the largest producers in oil fields like the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.