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  • Writer's pictureSudan Witness

Fuel and fire: Repeated fires at Khartoum Oil Refinery pose risk to energy supplies

Updated: 6 days ago

Image credit: X @ahmed_albalal

Figure 1: Location of Khartoum Oil Refinery [16.130779, 32.691307]

لقراءة المقال بالعربية

Khartoum Oil Refinery - الحرائق المتكررة في مصفاة الخرطوم
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Summary:

  • Sudan Witness has verified fires at the Khartoum Oil Refinery, approx. 80km north of Khartoum, on the 21 and 22 of January 2024. 

  • Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) supporters have accused each other of carrying out attacks on the site. However, Sudan Witness has not yet been able to verify attribution. 

  • This is not the first time that Khartoum Oil Refinery has been affected by fires, with Sudan Witness noting a pattern of conflict related incidents around the facility. 

  • Damage to the site could pose a serious risk to energy supplies.


Video 1

On 21 January 2024, a pro-SAF journalist with 48,700 followers posted a video to X showing large fuel tanks on fire, with fire engines and men in blue uniforms in the foreground of the video. Sudan Witness geolocated the footage to the Khartoum Oil Refinery (also known as Al Jili Oil Refinery), approximately 80km north of Khartoum (figure 2).


Figure 2: Satellite imagery showing geolocated footage of Khartoum Oil Refinery fuel tanks on fire on 21 January 2024 [16.130779, 32.691307]. Sources: Google Earth and X

NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) data showed at least ten heat signatures above different sections of the Khartoum Oil refinery on 21 January, decreasing to five heat signatures by 22 January (figure 3). A heat signature was detected directly above the geolocation of Video 1 at 11:40 GMT+2 on 21 January (figure 2). This led Sudan Witness to chronolocate Video 1 to 21 January 2024. 


Figure 3: NASA FIRMS data showing ten heat signatures above the Khartoum Oil Refinery between 21 and 22 January, 2024. Source: NASA FIRMS

The pro-SAF journalist who originally posted Video 1 blamed the RSF for the incident, as the caption stated that “rebel forces continued to bomb the fuel depotanks of the Al-Jili refinery today [21 January 2024].” “Rebel forces” is a term commonly used by pro-SAF individuals to describe the RSF, after SAF General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan officially declared them a rebel entity in April 2023, as reported by Al Jazeera.


Video 2

On 21 January 2024, a pro-RSF account with 47,800 followers posted a separate video to X showing a man standing and speaking in a remote area with large smoke plumes in the background. Sudan Witness geolocated and chronolocated Video 2, confirming that the man was standing approximately 4.8km east of the Khartoum Oil Refinery on 21 January (figure 4).


Figure 4: Satellite imagery showing geolocated footage of man with smoke plumes in background  [16.127563, 32.737858]. Sources: Google Earth and X

In Video 2, the man featured also states “[...] on today’s date, Sunday 21 January, the extremists from the former regime burn the Al Jilii petroleum refinery,” in reference to the SAF. This led Sudan Witness to assess that the fires started at the oil refinery on 21 January. 


Takeaways 

Both pro-RSF and pro-SAF individuals have said that the fires are a result of attacks on the refinery and accused each other of targeting the facility. However, neither the RSF or the SAF have responded to the allegations in any official capacity, and Sudan Witness has not yet been able to attribute the incident. 


This is not the first time that Sudan Witness has observed fire damage to the Khartoum Oil Refinery. Sudan Witness previously verified that a central section of the refinery was damaged by fire on 6 December 2023. Sudan Witness also observed satellite imagery that showed patterns on the ground resembling craters, which suggested that the damage could have been caused by an airstrike. Similarly, both the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) accused each other of carrying out the 6 December attack on the site, but Sudan Witness was not able to verify these claims. 


Conflict related incidents that result in damage to major fuel/gas infrastructures pose a significant threat to the storage, production and supply of energy in Sudan.

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