NASA captures photos of Libya’s burning oil tanks

Earlier this week, Islamic State militants launched an assault on oil storage tanks in El Sider and the Ras Lanuf oil port in Libya, killing as many as 10 guards and injuring 40, according to multiple news reports.

The militants set fire to five of the tanks, which Libyan officials said held between 420,000 and 460,000 barrels of oil each. As of Wednesday, guards at the facility were still trying to control the fires.

On Thursday, NASA released photos of the burning oil tanks captured by three different satellites, showing the extent of the smoke plumes. Click through above to see the NASA images.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory blog:

At 2:05 p.m. Libya time (12:05 Universal Time) on January 6, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured an image (top) of smoke plumes rising from the fires and blowing to the east and northeast. By 11:35 a.m. local time (09:35 Universal Time) on January 7, the winds had shifted, driving the smoke southeast as shown in an image acquired by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite.

A multispectal imager on the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 2 got an even closer view of the fires. The images below were acquired at 11:39 a.m. Libya time (09:39 UTC) on January 5, 2016.

Libya, which has the largest oil reserves in Africa and is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has struggled to increase its oil production following the 2011 civil war that toppled Muammar Qaddafi but split the country into two competing administrations and several rival militia groups.

According to the most recent OPEC data, Libya pumped just 405,000 barrels per day in November, one-quarter of the 1.6 million barrel per day high the country reached in 2011.

Seeking to take advantage of the chaos in Libya, ISIS began a series of attacks in the country in early 2015. The militant group, which reportedly makes between $40 million and $50 million per month pumping crude from rudimentary oil wells captured in Syria and Iraq, is now pushing to gain access to Libya’s vast oil reserves.