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The Al-Omar oil field in Rmeilan, in northeast Syria, was captured from ISIS control by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on October 22, 2017. Photo: Hussein Malla / AP

Oil has been a key revenue source for ISIS, yet new data shows that production has steadily declined in areas under the group's control.

Historically, it has been difficult to get an accurate measure of ISIS's oil production. Past estimates extrapolated from chance observations at a small number of production sites — typically wherever journalists have had a source or intelligence documents have been seized. But that is like counting employees at a few McDonalds locations to draw conclusions about the number of workers across the fast food industry.

To arrive at a more precise figure, my colleagues and I developed a tool, as reported in a recent paper, that uses satellite imagery to evaluate in real time all 42 of the oil production sites once controlled by ISIS. The results show that production levels were approximately 56,000 barrels per day from July to December 2014. Production dropped to an average of 35,000 barrels per day throughout 2015, before declining further to approximately 16,000 barrels per day in 2016.

Why it matters: Our study shows that ISIS has been highly ineffective in managing its oil fields, limiting its revenue from these valuable assets and forcing it to fall back on taxation and extortion for funding. This data can also help to shape plans for rebuilding areas liberated from ISIS control by setting priorities for needed repairs and providing revenue projections for local economies.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.