Even as much has been written about the regional and global actors pursuing their pitiless agendas in Syria, one sub-plot in the vicious drama has remained relatively unexplored. And that is the gas resource and its routes from production to the market.
The past five years have seen discoveries of immense energy reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean; both the Levant Basin located along the shores of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and Cyprus and the Nile Basin north of Egypt. According to preliminary geological surveys, the Levant Basin contains 3.5 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of gas and 1.7 billion barrels (bb) of oil. The Nile Basin contains 6 tcm of gas and 1.8 bb of oil.
Syria alone is estimated to have discovered proven gas reserves of 284 bcm, oil reserves of 2.5 bb and shale reserves of 50 billion tonnes with the possibility of more findings. The production levels are, however, drastically falling. The pre-uprising level of oil was 380,000 barrels a day (bd), which fell to just 20,000 bd, a decline of about 95%. According to some estimates, the natural gas output has halved at 15 million cubic meters (mcm). A lot of gas is used for reinjection into the oil fields to improve the oil recovery. The unrest has not only disrupted the production, but has resulted in the withdrawal of foreign producers and financiers.
Almost the entire Syrian oil was exported to the European Union (EU). The sales have come to a virtual standstill after the European Union (EU) put an embargo on the Syrian oil in December 2011. In fact, in April this year, the EU has permitted imports from the rebel-held areas so long as the deals are approved by the Syrian National Coalition.
Within the country, there has been no investment in the refineries, energy pipelines or other infrastructure. Additionally, there is a constant fear of sabotage by the rebels. Since the diesel in the country has been subsidized and priced lower than in the neighbourhood, there has always been a smuggling of the oil, the levels of which are rising alarmingly.
On June 25, 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the Iranian port city of Bushehr to construct a gas pipeline from the Iranian gas field of Assaluyeh through Iraq and Syria. To be built at a cost of $10 billion, its projected capacity of 110 mcm per day was tentatively allocated among Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It was proposed to extend it to Greece through a submarine line and from there on to the markets in Europe. Named the “Islamic Pipeline”, it was to be supplemented by the export of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from the Syrian ports on the Mediterranean. Latakia and Tartous are two major Syrian ports. Russia has leased Tartous and constructed a naval base there.
Syria is a key link in both the rival pipeline projects; the one originating in Iran and the one originating in Qatar. Whether the Assad regime survives or a change of regime happens there would determine the global gas system in a large way. Qatar will not be the sole beneficiary of the pipeline. There are three distinct calculations besides carrying Qatari gas. It would pry Turkey loose from dependence on Iranian supplies, it would severely curtail the Russian near monopoly as the gas supplier to Europe and it would facilitate Israel’s gas export to Europe.
There are many interesting conspiracy theories making rounds around this pipeline. One sees a clear connection in the timing between the signing of the memorandum on the Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline and the beginning of violent uprising in Syria. The other notes a coincidence between the fiercest fighting in places inside Syria and the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline through its territory. Yet another explains the Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood among the Syrian rebels and beyond in the region in this context. After all, Qatar has sunk three billion dollars in the Syrian civil war. A small sum in Qatar’s wealth, but big in comparison to the Western handouts to the rebels. An additional consideration could be that Qatar shares its gas field, which it calls the North Dome with Iran, which calls it South Pars. Together it is the largest gas field in the world. The disputes of the past may flare up in future over the borders and extraction rights in the gas field.
Russia has high stakes in the Syrian developments. Its presence on the Tartous port is one of the important ones. Its warning to the Western powers against any military intervention in Syria and the imminent arrival of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in Tartous testifies to the Russian commitment to secure its present military presence there and future point of gas transit from there.
The West has high stakes too and not just to contain Russia. Europe has been struggling to break loose of the Russian near monopoly over its gas supplies. Azerbaijan has emerged as a partner of choice in an ambitious “southern energy corridor” which would transport ten billion cubic meters of gas from the newly developed Azeri gas fields to Europe via Turkey. The Azeri gas reserves are limited. The commercial viability of the corridor would depend on feeding additional gas into the supply chain. The Qatari gas is an indispensible component in the success of the venture – the gas that would traverse though Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Jordan-Syria and Turkey.
Full article: The Great Gas Game over Syria (Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis)