PETROLEUM: AREA ALBANIA

Albania is currently among the poorest European countries with a per capita income of 4.500$ a year. However, it is home to an immensely rich subsoil with more than 5,3 billion barrels of crude lying beneath the surface. The communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha began in 1941 and initiated an isolationism that only left the country open to like minded Soviet and Chinese influences. These relationships manifested themselves in the development of the technological capabilities necessary to begin tapping into Albania’s oil wells.

Since the fall of the regime in 1985, free market capitalism began to take hold and various corporations entered the single market once dominated by the state owned Albpetrol. Chinese and Canadian companies now own 95% of crude extraction in the Patos-Marzina region under the name of Bankers Petroleum. Despite a seismic shift in the market, a large part of the refineries and storage facilities built in the sixties and seventies have been maintained and are now the source of dangerous social and environmental issues in the region such as; contaminated lakes, oil leaks, the poisoning of underground water wells rendering the water undrinkable and unusable for agriculture, and massive gas emissions that affect the villages surrounding the refineries.

In order to extract the crude from under the soil, the refineries use different techniques including fracking as of most recently. The introduction of fracking has resulted in the regular earthquakes destroying the homes of 71 residents and damaging 540 more. Bankers Petroleum made a donation to help rebuild some of the homes but has not claimed responsibility.

Ballsh is the biggest town of the Mallakastra district and a main spot concerned by oil pollution, which affects directly about 27,000 residents. Agriculture and oil refining are the main sources of income in Ballsh. Poor investment in agriculture and decadent infrastructure have left many people with no other option that looking to migrate to Western Europe.

Author Daniel Cole, Jaime de Lorenzo and Jordi Jon PardoYear2019-2020LocationBallsh, AlbaniaStatusWork in progress

The lake of Rezevuari i Hekalit in Ballsh, surrounded by oil wells of the Mallakastër industrial complex.

The abandoned village station has become a leisure center for Ballsh's residents.

After spending last summer as an agricultural worker in Italy, Jahaj, 24, had returned to his hometown of Ballsh hoping to make a life selling the cherries his family grows on their land. In the picture, Jahaj poses with his family in their living room.

One of the techniques used by Bankers Petroleum to extract gas and oil from the subsoil is fracking. This has caused earthquakes that destroyed 71 houses and partially damaged 540 between 2013 and 2017. Many residents of Zharrëz have had to leave their homes for fear of collapsing.

Workers of Bankers Petroleum in the oil field of Marinëz. In order to extract the crude from under the soil the refineries use different techniques including fracking as of most recently in the south of Albania. The introduction of fracking has resulted in the regular earthquakes destroying the homes of 71 residents and damaging 540 more during the last decade. Bankers Petroleum made a donation to help rebuild some of the homes but has not claimed responsibility.

The abandoned power plant on the outskirts of Fier. This town became one of the most important cities in Albania during the era of industrialization after the Second World War. Industrial plants and a refinery were constructed. In the 1960s, Korporata Elektroenergjitike Shqiptare (Albanian Electric Power Company, KESH) constructed a huge steam power plant (Termocentrali i Fierit) with an adjoining fertilizer factory. In 2007 it was finally shut down and the entire area sold to a Greek investment group for the symbolic price of a single Euro.

Dismantled buildings, abandoned gas stations and plots for sale are a common part of the Albanian landscape. In the photograph, a dismantled structure next to a service station that has been converted into a hay warehouse for the surrounding farmers.

Linaq, a 12-year-old neighbor of Ballsh, is affected by architectural pollution. She lives with her family few meters away from an abandoned house damaged by fires 25 years ago. Ruins such as this one are spread out all over Albania.

A worker sprays a school bus at a car wash in the town of Ballsh.

A sample of the Gjanica, the most polluted river in Albania. The Industrial negligence, mainly oil spills from Patos-Marinza and Ballsh refineries, is affecting the agricultural, herding and fishing activities from most of Southern Albania. May 2019.

Illiri, a farmer who lives and works next to the refinery, burns olive trees prunings.

A mountain and industrial landscape, pictured from the vicinities of Ballsh.

A man takes an evening stroll through an orchard in the town.

Tire tracks from a truck reflect the state of abandonment and lack of control that exists in oil wells run by Albpetrol, Albania's state owned oil company.

Young people from Ballsh pass the time playing video games at a leisure hall till dusk.

Night falls and the air in the Fier Mallakastër region becomes turbid. At times, the stench of oil becomes unbearable in the thick of the night.