Marines fuel Iraq

Nov. 1, 2003
GET MAJOR MCKINLEY in here right now! With that order from Lt Gen James T Conway, the First Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF) assumed responsibility for

“GET MAJOR MCKINLEY in here right now!”

With that order from Lt Gen James T Conway, the First Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF) assumed responsibility for petroleum distribution to the cities and towns across virtually all of southern Iraq. He picked the right person for the job.

Maj McKinley is Krista McKinley, 1992 Naval Academy graduate and daughter of Phil and Karen McKinley of McKinley Trucking Company Inc, a petroleum hauler in Carson City, Michigan. Besides growing up in the tank truck industry, Maj McKinley was a terminal manager for Cox Petroleum, Bakersfield, California, for about a year prior to the war with Iraq.

The decision on civilian distribution of petroleum came in the waning days of Operation Iraqi Freedom (early May) and was prompted by the chaos that gripped every section of the country. Virtually every necessity was in short supply, including gasoline, diesel, and propane. It was a sad state of affairs for a country that sits on top of some of the largest crude oil reserves in the world.

Shortages of diesel contributed to electrical outages that paralyzed cities and towns, leaving people without power for lights and refrigeration as summer temperatures began rising. Supplies of propane, used by a majority of Iraqis for cooking, had virtually disappeared.

Before the war, service stations in Baghdad and other large cities were open 24 hours a day, and petroleum transports brought deliveries three times a day. During and after the war, some service stations were looted or destroyed. Others had to reduce operations due to drastic shortages of gasoline.

The shortages led to lines of cars at the service stations that stretched for miles, with family members standing shifts to hold their place in line. They had to contend with station operators taking bribes to let other people cut in line. Pandemonium broke out when fuel deliveries were made, and there were instances of riots with grenades being thrown. Five liters (1.3 gallons) of premium grade gasoline was fetching 1,250 Iraqi dinars (1,000 dinars equaled about $1 at the time.)

Refinery outages created some of the refined fuels shortage, but the situation was aggravated by sabotage and rampant theft from pipelines and fuel terminals. In fact, some Iraqi Oil Ministry officials contend that theft and smuggling were key reasons for fuel shortages after the war.

Whatever the cause, the problems were becoming severe, and something had to be done to protect the Iraqi population. That prompted a meeting between Lt Gen Conway; Col Larry Brown, IMEF operations officer; and Col JC Coleman, IMEF chief of staff.

It was during the meeting that Maj McKinley's name came up. Someone said “Isn't Maj McKinley's father involved in the trucking industry? Didn't Maj McKinley do this sort of thing in Los Angeles (California)? Get her in here right now.”

Maj McKinley says she was told that she was now the Civil Affairs Fuels Officer for IMEF, and that it was her job to figure out a solution to the mess in the civilian sector. She became part of a small, tightly knit team of Marines (about 20 in all, not counting security forces) that brought stability to a chaotic situation in a very short amount of time.

Detailed assessment

The process started with a detailed assessment of civilian fuel needs and the condition of the distribution infrastructure. “We knew that the distribution system was down and had been for awhile,” Maj McKinley says. “We knew we couldn't fix everything right away. We wanted to focus on things we could do quickly, like providing security at the gas stations.”

While studying the situation, members of the IMEF Civil Affairs Fuels Team traveled throughout the southern region visiting refineries, pipeline facilities, distribution terminals, and service stations. They met with Iraqi Oil Ministry officials and representatives from the Coalition Provisional Authority.

They found critical shortages of gasoline and propane throughout the region. Diesel supplies were adequate. Pre-war gasoline consumption was 15 million liters (3.9 million gallons) a day, and propane demand was 4,000 tonnes (4,400 tons) a day. The key diesel need was 500,000 liters (132,000 gallons) a day to keep the power plant at An Najaf fully operational.

During meetings with Iraqi Ministry of Oil officials in late May, the Civil Affairs Fuels Team determined that the available supply of gasoline was about 40% of demand. Just 15% of propane demand was being met, forcing millions of people to find other sources of cooking fuel.

“Our biggest surprise in the whole evaluation process came in gasoline demand,” Maj McKinley says. “We calculated demand based on past use. That estimate was off significantly due to explosive growth in automobile ownership throughout the country following the war. Under the Saddam Hussein regime, private ownership of automobiles was tightly controlled. Those controls ended with the elimination of the regime. People brought in thousands of cars from Jordan and other nearby countries, and gasoline demand soared. Demand went from 15 million liters a day to 18 million liters.”

Retail distribution of gasoline was through a network of government and privately owned service stations. For instance, in the governorates of Babil, Karbala, and An Najaf in southern Iraq, there were 23 government-owned gas stations and 29 private outlets.

Iraqi refineries

Further analysis by the Civil Affairs Fuels Team showed that the domestic market relied on widely separated Iraqi refineries at Baghdad, Basrah, and Baiji. The refineries were shut down during the war and were slow getting back on line.

Outdated technology was one reason for the slow recovery, and this affected the refineries, pipelines, and distribution centers. The technology was from the 1950s and 1960s. Manual controls were used throughout the facilities. “What impressed us was the fact that the Iraqis had done a remarkable job of keeping the system up and running for so long,” Maj McKinley says.

Refined product pipelines were in place, extending from the refineries to Baghdad. Iraq also had a pipeline network for crude oil exports. In total, 4,500 miles of pipeline criss-cross Iraq. Pipeline operations were severely impacted by war damage and looting.

Petroleum distribution was largely state controlled under the Saddam Hussein regime and was directed by bureaucrats in Baghdad. Even though many of the Ba'ath party members at the Ministry of Oil were forced out by the Coalition Provisional Authority, remaining officials continued to give preferential treatment to Baghdad.

“Their priority rested in Baghdad, forcing the areas of northern and southern Iraq to go without fuel or operate at a much degraded state,” Maj McKinley says. “Ministry officials were very resistant to diverting fuel south. We used a lot of persuasion. We couldn't just commandeer fuel, even to supply Iraqis.”

Lastly, recordkeeping and communication were in total disarray. Iraqi managers were very reluctant to share what information they had with the Marines. No system was in place for tracking trucks, drivers, or fuel deliveries.

The nation's communication system was destroyed during the war. Iraqi distribution managers had no way to call from city to city. They would have to drive to Baghdad to request fuel resupply. For many, it was a day's drive to and from the capital city.

Marine strategy

After completing the analysis of the petroleum distribution infrastructure, the IMEF Civil Affairs Fuels Team settled on a three-pronged strategy: secure distribution locations, build a cooperative relationship with Iraqi oil ministry officials, and increase fuel shipments.

Enhanced security came first because so much petroleum was being stolen at the time. Thefts dwarfed the losses from sabotage. News reports indicate much of the stolen petroleum was shipped to other countries. The smuggling angered residents in many cities and helped promote attacks on tank trucks with foreign license plates.

To combat the thefts and sabotage, Marine security teams were assigned to refineries, pipelines, and distribution facilities throughout southern Iraq, with the exception of Basrah, which was under British control. Marines also began to provide temporary security at service stations during deliveries.

“We only guarded services stations getting a delivery, because we didn't have enough manpower for more than that,” Maj McKinley says. “We also had armed security with the shipments. Seeing a convoy of fuel tankers being escorted into their city by armed Marines really raised the spirits of Iraqis. When the fuel shipments arrived, people would line the streets and cheer. It was like a holiday.

“We put a platoon of Marines at the huge fuels distribution complex in Latifiyah (25 miles south of Baghdad), and we sent smaller teams to other fuels distribution sites. Their responsibilities included monitoring tank truck loading. Terminal security would radio ahead to Marines at delivery locations to ensure that the amount delivered matched what was loaded. Drivers were arrested for theft if there was a discrepancy. We wanted to send a message, and we were successful in doing that.

“US Army military police assigned to IMEF's area of responsibility mounted a major effort to stop the sabotage and theft along the petroleum pipelines. Plus it was every Marine unit's job to watch for black market sales or pipeline tappings and take action. It was a successful campaign that put a lot of pipeline tappers out of business.”

Iraqi oil ministry officials were part of the effort to improve security and achieve stability in the petroleum distribution process. The IMEF Civil Affairs Fuels Team consulted with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, as well as those at distribution terminals throughout southern Iraq.

Working from the IMEF headquarters in Saddam Hussein's Babylon palace, the team initiated weekly meetings at the Ministry of Oil in Baghdad. These meetings were attended by Iraqi officials, such as Thamer al-Ghadhban, acting oil minister. Other participants included members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, particularly Philip Carroll, senior advisor to the Coalition's Oil Team and former president of Shell Oil Company. Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), which has a US contract to supply gasoline and other fuels to Iraq, was represented.

“We built a good rapport with these officials through the regular meetings, and that paid dividends,” Maj McKinley says. “We were able to reach mutual agreements with the Ministry of Oil, Coalition Oil Team, and military command on the best ways to quickly address the fuel shortages.”

Out in the field, the IMEF Civil Affairs Fuels Team made contact with Iraqi petroleum distribution managers in the key cities of Karbala (population 549,000), Al Hillah (population 524,000), An Najaf (population 563,000), Ad Diwaniyah (population 421,000), Al Kut (population 381,000), As Samawah (population 124,000), and An Nasiriyah (population 535,000). Most importantly, the Civil Affairs Fuels Team helped the regional managers establish regular communication with the Ministry of Oil through the use of satellite telephones and the military communications network.

Import needs

Through the meetings and contacts, the IMEF Civil Affairs Fuels Team learned that the difference in fuel required and fuel produced by Iraqi refineries had to be made up in imports. KBR contracted for more than 8 million liters (2 million gallons) a day of refined petroleum from sources in Kuwait and Turkey. The State Oil Marketing Organization of Iraq (SOMO) obtained additional refined petroleum supplies from Jordan and Turkey.

While the United States provided much of the funding for gasoline and propane imports, the diesel for the An Najaf power plant was purchased with Iraqi dinars confiscated from the Saddam Hussein regime by the IMEF. In all, IMEF seized tens of thousands of dollars in dinars from the former dictator's bank accounts.

Trucking would have to compensate for the grid of refined product pipelines that normally supplied the gasoline needs of the smaller cities in southern Iraq. Early on, the Civil Affairs Fuels Team found that it was not practical to adapt the crude oil export pipelines to fuel import use. Tanker rigs moved in convoys and needed military escorts with heavy machine guns.

Diesel logistics was the easiest to coordinate. The primary responsibility for IMEF was to make sure that the electric generating plant in An Najaf had sufficient diesel to run at full capacity until natural gas supplies were restored. Most of the diesel came from the refinery in Basrah, and there was plenty of it. Marine and US Army petroleum transports were tasked with the job of hauling diesel from the refinery to the power plant.

“We needed to deliver 500,000 liters (132,000 gallons) a day to the power plant,” Maj McKinley says. “Under the best conditions, it would take 30 tank trailers a day, but we actually needed about a hundred. We ran four convoys in a daily cycle. One would be uploading at the Basrah refinery while another was delivering to the power plant. A third convoy would be en route back to our logistics base in Kuwait, and a fourth would be undergoing maintenance at the base. The cycle was continuous.”

Minor problems

The diesel convoy process ran reasonably smoothly. There were some initial issues at the refinery loading rack. Iraqi tank truck drivers loading diesel for other destinations sometimes became irate because the military convoys had priority. Security guards had to calm things down.

Petroleum transports for the diesel convoys were provided by the US Army's 49th Quartermaster Group, and security was handled by the Marines. The primary tractor was the M915, which is built by Freightliner. Most of the tank trailers had a 7,500-gallon capacity.

The Army tractors performed well, according to Marine Reservist Sgt Jay Sanford, IMEF liaison in Kuwait for petroleum transport operations and a mechanic at Los Angeles (California) Freightliner in civilian life. “I accompanied several convoys and never saw any of the tractors break down,” he says. “That maintenance day in their operation cycle really made a difference.”

The biggest problem was with the security vehicles. “We didn't have enough humvees and MTVRs (Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement trucks) to provide a maintenance day,” Sgt Sanford says. “As soon as a convoy returned to our Kuwait base, the Marine security team would empty their trash, and a new crew would load up water, food, and ammo and hit the road. The security vehicles never shut down. The result was that they wore out a lot of tires, transmissions, and other equipment.”

Gasoline shipments

Gasoline was the largest part of the distribution effort and took the greatest management and transport resources. At the height of the operation, more than 500 petroleum transports a day were running in Iraq as part of the IMEF operation.

In an effort to manage the operation more efficiently and do a better job of tracking vehicles, the military established the Humanitarian Assistance Task Force (HATF). Sgt Sanford was IMEF liaison to the HATF in Kuwait, and Maj McKinley credits him for doing an outstanding job in keeping the fuel shipments moving with minimal delay. Along with other duties, Sgt Sanford met weekly with representatives from KBR and the Kuwaiti refinery supplying gasoline to head off problems before they interfered with shipments.

Civilian tankers handled the gasoline shipments, and many belonged to owner-operators. They were brought from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. “Basically, we rounded up petroleum transports from everywhere in the region,” Sgt Sanford says. “Most were tractor-trailer rigs with capacities of 20,000 to 30,000 liters (5,200 to 7,900 gallons).”

Civilian rigs were supposed to run in convoys just like the military tankers, and Marine security was assigned. Civilian convoys consisted of 20 to 50 vehicles. Civilian and military tankers were not combined into mixed convoys, though.

Not all of the civilian tank truck drivers liked the convoy requirement, and the various nationalities didn't always blend well. Many civilian drivers tried to run on their own, sometimes with tragic results.

“The civilian convoys could be very chaotic,” Sgt Sanford says. “We tried to designate locals as convoy commanders, someone who would be seen as an authority figure by the drivers. Ideally, this person would speak English. We had so many convoys, though, that there just weren't enough English speakers.

“Drivers from different countries would get into fights with each other. They would stop for tea breaks on their own schedule, not the military's. At mealtimes, some drivers would exit the convoys, park their trucks on the side of the road, and walk into a village to find a restaurant. When they returned, they might find their trucks stolen or stripped down to the frame rails. In some cases, drivers were shot and killed in the towns.”

Food requirement

Civilian drivers were supposed to bring their own food and water, but many didn't follow the rule. The issue became serious enough in late summer that drivers weren't allowed to cross into Iraq unless they were carrying at least a five-day food supply.

All of the fuel convoys were potential targets for guerrilla attacks, but the groups of civilian tankers seem to have been particularly vulnerable. “Some of our Army tanker convoys had to run through cities at night, and they took some harassing fire,” Sgt Sanford says. “On the civilian side, we were averaging a transport stolen or blown up every three weeks. Some were hit by RPGs (rocket propelled grenades).”

To minimize the potential for attacks on convoys, the US military had a series of checkpoints extending from the Kuwait border to Baghdad. Convoys had to check in at each one on the route, and the checkpoints were linked by tactical phones.

Communication and tracking en route were more limited. Marine security vehicles had GPS-type tracking devices that could send text messages. Some military vehicles also carried satellite telephones, as did a few civilians.

The Marines set up several convoy support centers along the main routes traveled by the petroleum haulers. These centers served as rest stops and had food, water, and fuel. They were used by both the civilian and military convoys. “We wanted drivers to stay overnight at the support centers because they provided more protection than at the delivery locations,” Maj McKinley says.

Delivery points

Gasoline convoys typically unloaded their shipments at any of several petroleum terminals. Lines of trucks at the terminals were lengthy at times, and they weren't all hauling inbound loads.

Outbound shipments to service stations were moved by Marine and civilian tankers. Trucks at the loading racks included those from the Ministry of Oil fleet, much of which had survived the war undamaged. Private service station operators also sent their trucks to load fuel.

“Knowing where the government and privately owned trucks were going was just as important as managing the vehicles in our own operation,” Maj McKinley says. “We wanted to make sure that Iraqi trucks and humanitarian assistance shipments didn't go to the same delivery locations. Without some order to the process, one city could get multiple fuel deliveries while another got nothing.”

Marines were assigned to assist operations at most of the terminals, and they faced the challenge of adapting these terminals to the US military logistics operation. Many terminals had been configured to receive all fuel shipments via pipeline from Iraqi refineries.

In addition, Iraqis used fittings that were different from the ones on US tank trailers and even those from other Arab countries. The Marines made adapters to enable the different connectors to work together. Sgt Sanford had hoses made up with the correct fittings in Kuwait, and he supplied them to some of the terminals.

Pumps at the terminals required constant maintenance. “We burned out quite a few pumps,” Maj McKinley says. “We tried to have at least two loading points operational at each terminal. We never knew how many would be functioning on any given day.”

Regardless of the terminal difficulties and convoy challenges, gasoline distribution was much less complicated than the task of rebuilding the propane distribution system. “Neither the Marines nor the Army have propane transport equipment,” Maj McKinley says. “We had to rely totally on Iraqi assets. Initially, we were able to supply Iraqi homes with just one 10-kg (22-lb) cylinder every two weeks, and that wasn't enough for their needs.”

Gradual improvement

By late summer, even the propane shortages were dissipating. Motorists still lined up at service stations as they did in May, but instead of arriving at dawn to wait for hours, they filled up within 20 minutes at the same remarkably low prewar price of eight cents a gallon.

As the IMEF pulled out of Iraq in August and September, KBR took over gasoline transport responsibilities from Kuwait. Rail shipments of refined fuels from the Basrah refinery eased pressure on the trucking assets.

Oil production in Iraq is rising, and the refineries are getting back on line. The coalition aims to increase oil production to the prewar level of three million barrels per day by April 2004.

The power plant in An Najaf is still running at capacity, and coalition officials expected to meet prewar electricity supply levels in southern Iraq by October. However, that part of the country hasn't had continuous power in more than 10 years.

The Marines of IMEF can take pride in knowing that they kept that power plant running at a critical time and helped start the process of rebuilding Iraq's petroleum distribution system. Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, US Army commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force 7, said as much during a September 3 ceremony when IMEF transferred authority for southern Iraq to the Polish-led Multinational Division Central-South.

“The IMEF has accomplished so much in the past five months that it's hard to quantify everything that they have done,” he said. “Your incredible victories spearheading the coalition attack to Baghdad, in the most successful military operation in history, will be long studied. You have been equally successful in winning the peace here in this region. You have given hope to the hundreds of thousands of people in this area.”

Sgt Sanford puts it more simply: “We did a lot of good in a relatively short time. I believe we accomplished more than most people really expected. At one point during the summer, we even had to stop shipping gasoline from Kuwait because all of the gas stations we supplied in Iraq were totally full.”

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.