US sanctions and the future of Turkish-Iranian energy ties

April 17, 2019

On paper, Turkey and Iran should be natural partners when it comes to energy. On the one hand, Turkey has a growing demand for oil and gas and lacks significant domestic resources, making it highly reliant on imports. On the other hand, Iran has huge hydrocarbons reserves — the world’s fourth largest for oil and second largest for gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In reality though, things are more complicated. Energy relations between the two countries are not without their challenges, foremost among which are U.S. sanctions on Iran and disputes over pricing, although there is also a strong opportunity for greater cooperation in the form of Turkey’s efforts to become a regional energy hub.

At present, Iran is one of Turkey’s leading suppliers of oil and gas. According to figures from the Turkish Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA), as of January 2019, Iran was Turkey’s third-largest source of oil imports by volume, accounting for 12.35 percent of the total, behind Iraq (23.5 percent) and Russia (15 percent). It was also Turkey’s second-largest supplier of natural gas, accounting for just over 14 percent of the total, behind Russia (31.6 percent) and narrowly ahead of Azerbaijan (13.9 percent) and Algeria (12 percent).

U.S. sanctions
The reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran in October 2018 has presented an immediate and obvious hurdle to Turkish-Iranian energy ties. In the aftermath of the U.S. move, Turkey’s purchases of Iranian crude oil reportedly fell to zero, according to news reports. Since then, however, they have picked up again. Turkey was one of eight countries that received a temporary sanctions waiver enabling it to continue buying Iranian crude for a limited period of time, on the condition that it work to reduce its imports of Iranian oil and find alternative suppliers. The waivers are currently set to expire in May, and it is unclear as yet if the Trump administration will extend them. Nevertheless, the trend when it comes to oil imports from Iran is clearly downward: According to figures from EMRA, they fell by nearly half from January 2018 to January 2019, from 22 percent of total imports to 12.35 percent.

Pricing dispute
Pricing has long been a bone of contention between Turkey and Iran when it comes to energy. Under a 25-year agreement signed in 2001, Iran exports 10 billion cubic meters of gas annually to Turkey at a price of $507 per thousand cubic meters. Turkey first objected to Iran’s prices in 2009, when it said they were too expensive and demanded a discount. Soon after, an arbitration court granted Turkey a 12.5 percent discount on the original price. In 2012 Turkey took action against Iran again, suing it for overpricing on gas sales, and in 2016 the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) ruled against Iran in its dispute with Turkey. After reviewing the case, the ICA ordered Iran to reduce its gas prices by 13.3% by the end of 2016 and pay $1.9 billion in compensation to Turkey due to overpricing.

Iran’s gas prices are indeed much higher than those of its competitors, Azerbaijan and Russia, making it unlikely that Iran will be able to maintain its share of Turkey’s energy market unless it takes action. The current natural gas contract between the two countries is set to expire in 2026, and Turkey is planning to construct infrastructure to boost imports from Azerbaijan and Russia in regions of the country that primarily consume Iranian gas at present. Considering these factors, if Iran wants to maintain its role as a key natural gas exporter to Turkey and extend the existing contract past 2026, it will need to offer additional discounts or other incentives.

Turkey’s efforts to become a regional energy hub
One major potential opportunity for closer cooperation is Turkey’s ambitions of becoming a regional energy hub, leveraging the country’s geography and pipeline network to serve as an energy corridor between the oil-and-gas-rich states of Central Asia and the Middle East and the major consumer countries in Europe. If Turkey can put in place the required infrastructure and liberalize its energy market, this goal may be achievable, and energy imports from Iran could help it to realize this objective.

In line with its broader aim of becoming a regional energy hub, Turkey is working to diversify its oil and gas supplies as a central part of its energy policy. At present, the country is planning to import more natural gas through projects such as Turk Stream, an undersea gas pipeline running from Russia to Turkey. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), primarily from Qatar and the U.S., is also playing a growing role in the Turkish energy market. Imports from the latter jumped from nothing to nearly 8 percent of the total in just one year, from January 2018 to January 2019, according to figures from EMRA.

In theory, Iran could play a greater role here as well, but boosting the volume of Iranian gas exports to sell on to other countries would not be easy. Iran needs foreign technology and financing to increase its production, but due to U.S. sanctions neither is likely to be forthcoming until Iran can solve its problems with the West over its nuclear program, missile tests, and human right issues. In addition to addressing its geopolitical problems, Iran also needs a legal framework that would help to attract foreign investment. Without foreign energy firms and foreign capital, Iran will be not be able to produce more oil and gas for export. It will also need to address the issue of reliability, which has long been a problem with Iranian gas exports. If the country is to play a greater role as a supplier, it needs to guarantee that it will not cut the flow of gas, especially in wintertime.

Despite their proximity and complementarity as producer and consumer, Iran and Turkey face considerable, if not insurmountable, hurdles to closer cooperation on energy. If they can manage to overcome the challenges associated with U.S. sanctions and pricing and leverage the opportunities presented by Turkish efforts to become a regional energy hub, the two may well be able to finally make the most of what should be a natural partnership.

Omid Shokri Kalehsar is a Washington-based senior energy security analyst, currently serving as a visiting research scholar in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Omid is a PhD candidate in international relations at Yalova University, Turkey. The views he expresses are strictly his own.

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Saudi Arabia’s Plan to Lure Iraq From Iran

A Saudi economic delegation visited Iraq on April 3, seeking to promote the expansion of diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries—and to give Iraq an alternative to growing Iranian ties. 

This was the second meeting of the Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council, which held an initial meeting in 2017. The Saudis offered a $1 billion loan for the creation of a sports complex to be known as Sport City. The council also announced the establishment of consular centers for visa services in Baghdad and two other Iraqi cities.

These positive developments in Iraq-Saudi relations are the latest chapter in a new Riyadh approach to Iraq which began in late 2015. Until then, Saudi Arabia refused to recognize the Shia-dominated government that came to power in Baghdad after the 2003 US invasion. From 2003 – 2014, Saudi Arabia tried to confront Iran’s influence in Iraq and the rise of pro-Iranian Shia political groups by supporting the Sunni insurgency against Iraq’s central government. 

This policy did not succeed, and, in a major turnabout, Saudi Arabia re-established diplomatic relations with Iraq in late 2015. Diplomatic contacts and economic relations between the two countries have increased since then, as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also improved their relations with Iraq. In the meantime, the main objective of Saudi policy toward Iraq remains the same: reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq in the context of the ongoing Iran-Saudi proxy war.

Iraq’s economic, diplomatic, and religious ties with Iran have grown despite efforts by the United States and Saudi Arabia to diminish them. In 2016, Iran was the third largest exporter to Iraq after China and Turkey, and accounted for 16 percent of Iraq’s total imports. Iranian religious tourism to the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala is the leading source of tourism revenue for Iraq. Even more significantly, Iraq, despite its own considerable energy sector, imports a large amount of natural gas and electricity from Iran. Iran also enjoys significant political influence in Iraq and has developed close ties with several Shia and Kurdish political factions.

From the Saudi point of view, the most important dimension of Iraq’s dependence on Iran is energy imports. Saudi Arabia is planning to provide Iraq with alternative sources of energy in an effort to reduce this dependency, but this will not be an easy task. Iraq, despite huge oil reserves, faces a shortage of electricity and relies on imported electricity from Iran to cover a portion of this shortage. Domestic electricity production in 2018 was 16,000 MWs and it also imported 1,200 MWs from Iran. Yet Iraq still faces an electricity shortage that in hot summer months exceeds 5,000 MWs.

Furthermore, in addition to direct electricity imports, Iraq relies on natural gas from Iran to produce a portion of its domestic electricity. As a result, about one third of Iraq’s electricity is produced directly or indirectly through energy trade with Iran.

In 2018, Iraqi officials intensified their efforts to find alternative sources for electricity imports for several reasons. First, Iraq has come under pressure from the United States to abide by US economic sanctions on Iran and reduce its energy dependency on that country. Given how hard this is to achieve in the short run, Washington has repeatedly provided waivers but with reluctance, emphasizing that these exemptions are temporary. The energy imports from Iran are also risky because in periods of high domestic demand, Iran might reduce or even stop energy exports to Iraq. This happened in the summer of 2018 and led to severe power outages in southern Iraq. These shortages caused massive street protests, especially in the southern port city of Basra, against the Iraqi central government and Iran.

Iran defended its reduced electricity exports to Iraq because of rising domestic needs, but Iraqi officials criticized this policy and decided to approach Saudi Arabia as a potential alternative source. This development has provided Saudi Arabia with an opportunity to use energy trade to gain more political influence in Iraq. In June 2018, the spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity, Musab Sari al-Mudaris, announced that Saudi Arabia had agreed to launch a solar power plant with production capacity of 3,000 MWs in its northern region near the Iraqi border for electricity exports to Iraq at a discounted price. Although there has been a dispute about the accuracy of this report, the potential for energy cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq remains strong and the United States is also putting diplomatic pressure on Iraq to expand these ties in order to reduce Iraq’s dependence on Iran.

The warm reaction of the Iraqi government to Saudi initiatives does not imply that Iraq will abandon its economic and diplomatic relations with Iran. Rather it appears that Iraq is trying to create a balance in its relations with Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbors. This balanced approach was evident in Iraqi President Barham Salih’s April 2 interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in which he emphasized that “Bolstering relations with the Kingdom is an integral part of our vision for what Iraq’s ties should be like.” He added, “It is in our interest to enjoy good relations with Iran based on common interests.” 

In light of Iraq’s ethnic mix and the proportional representation of Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds in its political institutions, remaining neutral in the Saudi-Iran proxy war will serve Iraq’s interests well. Hence it should come as no surprise that after his April 6 visit to Tehran, Iraq’s Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi plans to visitRiyadh later this month.

www.atlanticcouncil.org

Nader Habibi is a Henry J. Leir professor of practice in the economics of the Middle East at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies in Brandeis University. He focuses on economic conditions of Iran and GCC countries. Follow him on Twitter: @NaderHabibi2.

Omid Shokri Kalehsar is a Washington-based senior energy security analyst, currently serving as a visiting research scholar in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Omid is a PhD Candidate in international relations at Yalova University, Turkey. Follow him on Twitter: @ushukrik.

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Strategic Port Deal with US May Affect Iran-Oman Relations


The deal will improve the United States’ ability to develop power in the Persian Gulf. 

Oman has been able to steer clear of regional disputes in recent years and play a more balanced role in the Gulf while maintaining good relationships with both Iran and the United States.

However, US sanctions against the Iranian oil sector have challenged the bulk of Iran’s energy transit and export plans, including the Iran-Oman natural gas pipeline.

The United States and Oman have signed an agreement allowing Washington to use Omani ports for commercial, military and security purposes. The agreement gives US military forces better access to the Arabian Gulf and fewer ships will need to sail through the Strait of Hormuz.

The deal will improve the United States’ ability to develop power in the Persian Gulf. The port of Duqm is strategically located outside the Strait of Hormuz and is 550km from Muscat. It’s an ideal port for the development of the sector.

Iran expressed interest in using the same ports and has many times threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, which is a strategic oil shipment route, in response to hostile US actions.

The strait, a sensitive position in pipeline projects, has always been a source of conflict between Iran and the United States. In August 2018, the United States claimed full control over the oil and gas pipelines in the area and threatened to resort to force if Iran disrupted passage of ships from the area.

Regardless of the US presence in the region and the various deals signed with Arab countries, Iran’s ties with countries such as Oman remain strong and significant.

By the end of 2018, Iran-Oman trade volume totalled approximately $1 billion. The development of a maritime transport fleet between the two countries, the facilitation of visa issuance for Iranian and Omani nationals, the increase in Iranian companies in Oman and the more competitive prices of Iranian exports in Oman have improved relations between the parties.

In 2013, Iran and Oman signed a memorandum of understanding on natural gas exports. With Iran’s implementation, the gas pipeline ran directly from the Gulf to Oman.

The 25-year contract for the transfer of Iranian gas to Oman through the pipeline was worth $6 billion. Tehran and Muscat agreed to issue 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day from Iran to Oman. Part of the gas would be converted to liquid natural gas (LNG) in target markets. The remaining capacity of the pipeline would involve future markets in the southern Persian Gulf.

Iran and Oman have agreed to change the route and design of the Iran-Oman submarine pipeline to avoid crossing UAE territorial waters. Iran’s gas pipelines to Oman would pass through a depth of about 1,000 metres, instead of 300 metres, so its distance would be slightly shorter and doesn’t cross UAE territory.

Iran has five LNG projects but, because of sanctions, these projects are incomplete. Iran planned to use natural gas to export to Oman and use some of this natural gas to produce LNG in Omani facilities.

Even if the strategic agreement between the United States and Oman does not affect the Iran-Oman natural gas project, Iran will have a hard time completing its natural gas projects and oil production capacity recovery projects without solving its problems with the West over human rights abuses and missile programme development.
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Energy investment fuels Saudi relations with Pakistan, India and China

audi Arabia uses oil and broader energy diplomacy to deepen the influence and impact of its foreign policy. One key pillar of Riyadh’s strategy is to use investment in other countries’ infrastructure to take larger shares in foreign markets and to decrease market share for rival nations.

Energy diplomacy is the interaction between two or more countries interconnected by various power-production or consumption sectors, including one or more components of trade, services, investment, technology and energy transmission. 

This kind of diplomacy deepens informal links, improves relations between countries and global engagement, and, in addition to economic and technological dimensions, can also address political and security dimensions.

Iran-Saudi competition 

Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional rival powers in the Middle East with huge oil and gas reserves, compete on a variety of issues; however, the main confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh is on one matter: each wants to be the superior political actor in the Middle East. 

Tehran and Riyadh have faced off in geopolitical confrontations in the region for decades, including the recent wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and over the presence of IS in the Middle East. The competing strategies have centred on weakening their rivals’ standing and stabilise their own position, investing in creating domestic and foreign political pressure on the rival country.

US sanctions

Iran’s largest export destination is primarily China, followed by the European Union, India and Turkey. In 2017, China imported an average of 700,000 barrels per day from Iran. China’s growing economy is dependent on oil imports – and focusing on energy sources is the primary objective of China’s National Energy Policy.

Between April and August 2018 India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran


Before the US sanctions on Iran, Chinese companies were actively present in Tehran’s energy industry. Iran, meanwhile, had considerable involvement in China’s energy sector through providing reliable energy for rapid economic growth. As the partnership deepened, the Chinese firms strengthened their role as an influential actor in the Middle East energy market. 
India is Iran’s second-largest oil customer. Between April and August 2018 India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran. India is also interested in getting more involved in Iran’s oil and gas exploitation and infrastructure projects.

Saudi investments

During a recent trip to Pakistan, which met with widespread praise from compliant Pakistani officials, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Saudi Arabia’s willingness to “help” its economy. 

Saudi oil minister Khalid Faleh said he would invest $10 billion in oil refineries in the Gwadar Port on the Indian Ocean. Direct investment in Pakistan has declined by 17 percent in recent years, and the efforts of the Islamabad government to create interest among foreign investors in a direct presence in Pakistan have not had much effect. 

Foreign direct investment in Pakistan over the past seven months has fallen by $30 million compared with the same period last year. Pakistan’s economic situation gives Saudi Arabia an opportunity to influence Pakistani foreign policy and its relations with neighbours.

In 2014, Pakistan signed an agreement with Iran to import natural gas from the Islamic republic. But due to its financial problems, Pakistan is unable to construct a pipeline to import gas from Iran. India and Pakistan signed the TAPI project with the aim of importing natural gas from Turkmenistan. Saudi Arabia also showed interest in providing financial support for the TAPI project. 

All developments in the region show Riyadh is interested in playing a role in regional energy diplomacy and geopolitics.

Saudi Arabia has an active involvement in the Indian energy market and will use its investments to influence India’s foreign policy and reduce Iran’s role in the Indian energy market. In early 2018, Saudi Aramco held 50 percent of Indian refinery shares, with a value of $44 billion, and capacity to refine 60 million tons of crude oil a month. 

India is a major oil customers of both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the two countries are working hard to get more from India’s energy market. Saudi Arabia has been planning a massive surge into south Asia, and has allocated cash from its $500 billion foreign investment fund to India. 

Aramco set up a new office in New Delhi to oversee its participation in the Indian energy market, and last year India invited Saudi Arabia to participate in the Strategic Reserves programme.

During MBS’ recent trip to New Delhi, his first official visit to India, it was announced Saudi Arabia would invest $100 billion in India over the next two years. Based on a $44 billion investment last year in the petrochemical sector, the $100 billion reported may not be far off reality. 

Could Saudi investments in Pakistan’s Gwadar port be a threat to Indian investment in the Chabahar port in the coming years?

China has major projects such as the one road belt and the sea silk route, which will increase the role of China in regional and global markets. The new Silk Road plan is designed to invest in the infrastructure of more than 60 countries and the development of two commercial routes, the Silk Road Belt and the Silk Road of the Sea, which were presented by China in 2013.

The construction of the oil pipeline from Gwadar to China will reduce the delivery time of oil from the current 40 days to just one week



By becoming a crucial point on the route, Gwadar will become an industrial hub for the region, easily accessible to Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa. 

Saudi Arabia also has geopolitical considerations in Gwadar. The construction of the oil pipeline from Gwadar to China will reduce the delivery time of oil from the current 40 days to just one week, and Saudi Arabia, like most other oil suppliers, is investing in oil and gas companies in the long term for oil refineries and petrochemicals.

When bin Salman visited China, the leaders of both countries emphasised the need to develop bilateral relations and signed no fewer than 35 economic cooperation agreements worth a total of $28 billion at a joint investment forum. 

Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, the world’s largest oil exporter, will sign a memorandum of understanding with China’s Norinko Corporation to build a refinery and petrochemical project in Panjin, northeast China. Aramco also plans to raise the minimum stock in Zhejiang’s petrochemicals. Zhejiang’s petrochemicals division is building a refinery and petrochemical complex in the eastern province of Zhejiang. 

These investments help Saudi Arabia regain its position as the world’s primary oil exporter to China. Saudi Arabia is also strengthening its market position by signing oil supply contracts with non-governmental Chinese refineries. Riyadh also wants to play an important role in China’s One Road One Belt project.

Saudi investment in the Pakistan, India and China energy sectors gives an opportunity to play a key role in these countries’ energy security. Riyadh will be able to increase oil exports to these countries, while an Iran under sanctions will be unable to play an important role. 

If the US doesn’t extend its waiver to major Iran oil buyers, it is likely that Iran’s biggest customers – mainly China and India – will look to Saudi Arabia.

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UAE Becoming a Leader in Renewable Energy

Abu Dhabi is one of the most important examples of a city that is creatively seeking to strengthen its renewable energy sector.

Countries across the world are planning to increase the share of renewables in their national energy baskets, particularly to generate electricity. The United Arab Emirates has an ambitious plan to become a leader in the Middle East in reducing reliance on fossil fuels and increasing renewable energy production.

The United Arab Emirates intends to expand the use of new energies in pursuit of such goals as exploiting renewable resources that are not oil-dependent. The Emirates has become a hub for clean energy technology, providing funding to build renewable energy projects around the world and investing millions of dollars in fundamental research on energy, water, microelectronics, advanced materials and transport systems.

The UAE serves as a model for renewable energy sector. Masdar Abu Dhabi, for example, a regional leader and international player in renewable energy and sustainable urban development, has invested more than $2.7 billion in clean energy development since 2006.

MENA countries with huge oil and natural gas reserves are looking to increase the use of renewable energy. Some have the potential to export electricity generated by renewables and decrease dependency on revenue from exported oil and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Studies suggest that electricity generated from renewable sources is cheaper than power produced from fossil fuels.

The UAE State of Energy Report 2015 said the share of power generated from natural gas will drop from 98% in 2012 to less than 76% in 2021, as clean energy enters the mix and energy efficiency grows.

UAE Energy Strategy 2050 targets an energy mix combining renewable, clean energy sources and nuclear power to meet the Emirates’ economic requirements and environmental goals of 44% clean energy, 38% natural gas, 12% coal and 6% nuclear.

The United Arab Emirates has a clear, ambitious target for clean energy and is joining other countries to maximise clean energy use. It is likely to become one of the world’s leading solar power producers because sunlight is one of the natural advantages of the country.

Studies indicate that, if the UAE reaches its renewable energy goals, it could save $192 billion by 2050 in the energy sector.

More than in any other city in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is seeking to become a Smart City, focusing on the use and development of clean energy. Dubai recently initiated its “Clean Energy Strategy 2050” initiative, which is designed to increase Dubai’s green and clean energy share by 75% by 2050.

Dubai officials stressed their commitment to creating a sustainable model for energy conservation and supporting economic growth without harming the environment and natural resources. The project, estimated at $13 million, is “scheduled to provide up to 7% of Dubai’s energy from clean sources in 2020, which will increase to 25% in 2030 and to 75% in 2050,” a UAE government report stated.

Last May, Dubai began the second phase of what will be the world’s largest solar park. Worth some $14 billion, the park will eventually produce 5,000 megawatts (MW) of energy, providing power for about 800,000 households.

Meanwhile, a French power company and Masaood Abu Dhabi jointly offered to construct a 300-MW photovoltaic power plant to produce power at 1.79 cents per kilowatt-hour, which would be the cheapest rate at which electricity has ever been produced in Abu Dhabi.

The United Arab Emirates is determined to find a clean replacement for natural gas, helping both the environment and its budget. By 2050, the UAE will have invested approximately $150 billion in renewable energy. This is expected to save the country $192 billion through reducing dependence on gas subsidies.

The Masdar city project is one of the UAE’s most important renewable energy-based projects. Begun in 2006 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the state-owned Mubadala Development Company and guided by Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, Masdar aims to develop clean technology and future energy solutions in terms of design, innovation, research laboratories and implementation.

Masdar operates through four interconnected business units and a research division that complements their work. With $2.7 billion put towards clean energy development in the past decade, the project functions as an investment model for other cities.

The UAE government plans to invest $340 million in sustainable development efforts in developing countries. Abu Dhabi has invested some $46 million in renewable energy projects in Africa and the Caribbean.

In addition, Emirates Company is the host and official partner of the Solar Impulse 2 project, a plan to fly a solar-powered aircraft around the world without the use of fossil fuels.

The UAE’s pioneering outlook in developing renewable energy will help the country become a leader in developing environmental policy and in job creation. Investing in renewable energy creates approximately three times more jobs than oil and gas and the United Arab Emirates plans to create more than 90,000 jobs in renewable energy by 2030.

Abu Dhabi is one of the most important examples of a city that is creatively seeking to strengthen its renewable energy sector. By 2030, the city is expected to contain about 40,000 inhabitants and the project will create more than 50,000 jobs there.

As solar energy gains traction throughout the world as an inexpensive source of energy, countries with high solar indexes are looking to reassess their energy strategies. Increased investment by the Emirate government and private energy firms in other countries gives the United Arab Emirates an opportunity to be a key player in renewable in the region.

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Iran’s Rouhani In Iraq: A new era in bilateral ties?

The potential for trade and economic growth between Iran and Iraq is enormous but global rivalries are a constant wrench in the relationship.

Rouhani’s official visit to Iraq comes at a time when Iran is experiencing multiple regional and foreign policy challenges partly resulting from the imposition of new sanctions against Iran’s energy industry. According to Iraj  Masjedi, the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, the purpose of Rouhani’s trip is to strengthen relations between the two countries in political, economic, cultural, and social matters.

With the intention of reducing the effects of the US sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and circumventing sanctions through its neighbours, Iran is interested in boosting its relations with Iraq.

Developing and expanding relations with neighbours is Iran’s first foreign policy priority.  Rouhani’s visit to Iraq is his first visit to Iraq as a president. Considering the good relations between Iran and Iraq, this trip could have taken place years ago, but political problems have led to a long-delayed trip.

In his meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih, Rouhani mentioned the vital role Iraq has in Iran’s regional policy and both countries intentions to boost relations in coming years.

Barham Salih told Iranian journalists that Iraq wants to help the Iranian people reduce the suffering from US sanctions. He said that Iraq and the region would be affected by sanctions, but they are working to minimise the impact – which is quite a strong message to the US government.

Five memorandums of understanding were signed regarding industry, mining, trade, a railroad project, business visas, healthcare cooperation and oil.

Energy exports to Iraq

Iran exports electricity to neighbouring countries, and plans to become a regional electricity hub in the long term. Iran exports between 200 and 250 megawatts of power to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Currently, Iraq is the largest importer of electricity from Iran. The official electricity export agreement between Iran and Iraq was signed in 2005 and has annually renewed. According to the latest deal between the two sides, Iran exports 120 megawatts of electricity annually to Iraq through three transit routes in Basra, Diyaleh, and Amarah.

According to Mohammad Hosseini, the secretary-general of the Iranian-Iraqi joint business room, Iran has $2 billion demand for energy exports to Iraq. Under the contract with Iraq, Iran’s exports of electricity to Iraq are done in dollars, and gas exports to Iraq are done in euros. But after the US invasion, Iraq was not able to pay the price of electricity and gas imported from Iran based on either of these two currencies.

Electricity exports to Iraq have become a thorny issue in bilateral ties. Last summer Iran cut electricity exports to Iraq due to a lack of a domestic network. Some analysts believe that despite the lack of debt payments, Iran intends to continue to export energy to Iraq for political and economic reasons.

Iran’s failure to export power to Iraq has paved the way for Saudi Arabia to invest in the construction of a 3000-megawatt solar power plant in Iraq to increase its presence in the Iraqi energy market with the intention of reducing Iran’s share of the market in the long run and consequently achieve its political goals in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has offered to sell electricity from the plant for a quarter of Iran’s electricity exports to Iraq. Iranian officials during Rouhani’s visit to Iraq shows their interest to supply Iraqi natural gas and electricity, but there is no significant progress on paying back their debts to Iran.

Iraq’s greater production in shared oil fields

Iran and Iraq share several joint oil and gas fields. The shared fields encompass Azadgan, Azar, NaftShahr, Dehloran, Paydar Gharb, Yaran, Yadavaran, and Arvand.

The Azadegan and Azar oil fields are the most important of the lot. Iraq has been able to extract and produce more oil than Iran and Iraq designed a new oil contract which favoured foreign companies. US sanctions mean Iraq is unable to attract foreign capital and technology to regain its oil and gas production capacity.

Currently, Iraq produces twice as much as Iran from the shared fields.

Iraq, from 2005 to 2017, has been able to increase its oil production from about 1.7 million barrels per day to 4.7 mpbd. In June 2018, Iraq handed over the development of several oilfields near the Iranian border to the UAE’s Alhelal company.

Meanwhile, Iran has also taken steps to increase production in the western part of Karoun, some of which are shared with Iraq. It should be noted that the amount of reserves in the section of Iran, which includes the Azadegan (North and South), and Yaran (north and south) fields, is estimated to be at 64 billion barrels.

The United States has repeatedly called on the Iraqi authorities to reduce energy imports from Iran, but Iraqi officials have declared how hard it’s been to find an alternative.

The two countries potential bilateral cooperation has tremendous commercial potential, but the current complications have prevented Iranian firms from benefiting from the Iraqi market.

Turkish firms have been more successful than their Iranian counterparts in the Iraqi market as the Turkish government supports all the businessmen and the private sector in the Iraqi market. The volume of trade between the two countries is currently at $12 billion, and the two countries are trying to increase the trade volume in the medium term to $20 billion.

Iran intends to use the Iraqi dinar in its exchanges with Iraq instead of the dollar. The possibility of using the Iraqi dinar can have a direct impact on the economic areas in the border regions.

Iran seemingly intends to play a role in rebuilding Iraq, but the presence of Iran at every level is a threat to US interests in the region. Iraqi officials have repeatedly expressed their desire for good relations with their neighbours, primarily for economic growth. The withdrawal of US forces from Iraq has increased Iran’s political influence in Iraq. The active presence of Iran in all political, economic, and military sectors in Iraq can be considered as a trump card against the United States.

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Iran-Gulf Energy Relations in the Time of Trump Sanctions

Analysis: Iran could easily export cheap gas to GCC nations, but only if it improves political relations with arch-enemy Saudi Arabia,

Over the past two years, Iran has bolstered its relations with several Arab countries as the Gulf crisis has deepened.

While the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] has in the past tried to present a unified, timely and relevant response to regional developments, these attempts are sometimes individualised by the actions of a member nation.

Iran’s relationship with every member of the GCC is different. Oman, the closest country to Iran among GCC members, maintains its warm political relationship with Tehran in a relatively predictable direction.

Iran-Oman relations faced few challenges either before or after the 1979 revolution. Oman’s policy of establishing close and positive relations with Iran, and a constant emphasis on the development of relations in all political, economic and cultural fields, has led Tehran and Muscat to recognise each other as strategic partners in the Middle East.

Oman also played a mediation role in Iran’s nuclear talks with the P5+1 countries and hosted several rounds of dialogue between Iranian and US foreign ministers.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, have built steadily during the Hassan Rouhani era. They have mutually exclusive interests in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The attack on Saudi diplomatic sites in Tehran and Mashhad also enflamed tensions more than ever.

In Iraq, since the fall of Saddam, Iran’s influence has grown significantly. Along with Iran’s allies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, Tehran’s regional expansionism has grown and alarmed Riyadh, which is fearful that growing Iranian influence comes at the expense of its own regional power.

Saudi Arabia has used the current tranche of US sanctions against Iran to produce more oil and take Tehran’s share of the world market. Riyadh is also trying to use its investments in major buyers of Iranian oil, such as India, to persuade them to reduce Iran’s role in their energy markets.

The GCC has always viewed the Islamic Republic of Iran as a fundamental threat to its existence, and from the outset, has taken a hostile attitude towards Iran.

Meanwhile, facing the collapse of the nuclear deal and the new sanctions, Iranian officials have declared they are “ready and interested” to develop bilateral relations with Iran’s neighbours, mainly the GCC.

 

Leveraging energy resources 

Iran’s geopolitical importance is in no small way connected to the existence of huge energy reserves, drawing the attention of global powers to the region. This, along with the strategies of other regional and global powers, largely shapes the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s main objective is to promote its regional status – and the biggest obstacle to achieving this is the strong US military presence in the region.

Regionalism as a main factor in Iranian foreign policy gives an opportunity for Iran to expand relations with the GCC. Iran, with huge oil and gas reserves, can be an energy supplier (mainly of natural gas) to some GCC members such as Oman, the UAE and Kuwait.

Given the fact that the Gulf countries are Iran’s top priority for gas exports, after negotiations with Oman, there is now the possibility of adding Kuwait to Iran’s list of gas customers.

Ali Reza Kamali, the former CEO of Iran’s Gas Export Company, said the current survey of Iran’s first gas exports showed it would only require the construction of a 200 kilometre pipeline to reach the markets of Oman, Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iraq.

While in recent years these countries have been believed to have little need for oil imports, they have little in the way of gas – except for from Iran.

If Iran does increase its gas production capacity, there is a possibility of export to the Gulf. Although initial talks for Iranian gas exports to Kuwait have not yet been finalised, the operation of the Iranian gas pipeline to Iraq could provide the foundations for the necessary physical infrastructure to provide gas onwards to Kuwait.

This means the technology and personnel to export gas through Iraq to Kuwait is largely already in place, and this programme could become operational not long after a contract is signed.

Although countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE do have gas resources, these consist mainly of gas with oil, and they do not have independent gas reserves. These countries are also focused on oil production.

Hamidreza Aragi, the director of Iran’s National Gas Company said that if gas contracts between Iran and neighbouring countries were signed, the security of the countries of the region would be tightly linked.

In terms of economics, politics, population, history of the formation and influence of Saudi Arabia in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia has long sought to expand its influence within the GCC as its most important member.

To enter a new era in Iran’s relations with the Council, both sides would need to be able to shift their concerns towards tangible diplomatic achievements. Iran has also to be more active in foreign diplomacy in order to eliminate problems with its neighbours.

 

To enter a new era in Iran’s relations with the Council, both sides would need ti  be able to shift their concerns towards tangible diplomatic achievements

 

Iran still has huge potential in the petrochemical sector, and exporting more petrochemicals may provide an alternative to exporting LNG while oversupply lowers the value of the LNG market.

Recent political tensions in the region have affected natural gas agreements with Iran’s neighbours, with energy experts believing political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have an overall negative effect on Iran’s ability to conduct business over natural gas agreements with other Arab nations.

Iran enjoys good political and economic relations with Oman; however, foreign factors have delayed the project of Iranian-Omani natural gas pipeline at the planning phase.

Iran should try to reduce tensions with Saudi Arabia to a manageable level, as the relations between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council depend on Iran’s relations with Riyadh.

History has shown that ties between the Gulf Cooperation Council and Iran have improved as relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia improve.

/www.alaraby.co.uk

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Challenges and Opportunities for Saudi Arabia’s Energy Transition from Oil

Currently, the main source of Saudi revenues is oil production—at a rate of nine to ten million barrels per day. Yet, this is not the kingdom’s only resource: Saudi Arabia is actively engaged in implementing many industrial projects, including energy projects and projects based around crude oil, in an effort to diversify its economy and wean itself off of dependence on oil.

 

Saudi oil resources and oil policies play a primary role in the kingdom’s dealings with the outside world. Yet in light of recent international outrage over various Saudi abuses and atrocities, such as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the country is focusing more and more on plans for diversification under Vision 2030.

Oil prices will continue to play a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s economy, but whether Saudi Arabia can maintain oil prices to provide a steady stream of income, is a matter that must be coordinated with OPEC, of which it is a powerful member state. Success in this arena will require coordination among the ruling Saudi government, the U.S., and the other major oil powers.

According to reports, the U.S. has announced that it will be able to supply 80 percent of the world’s oil demand through its own shale oil supplies within the next three years. While this may be exaggerated, the U.S. seems intent on keeping oil prices at a level of at least $55 to $60 per barrel over the next three years. At this price, Saudi Arabia can be confident over the next few years of a steady income stream from oil.

Saudi Minister of Energy, Khalid Al-Falih, has announced that there will be no change in Saudi oil policy. Riyadh’s goal is to keep its share of the market in oil, and it expects to earn at least $2 trillion in sales of up to 5 percent of Aramco stock, although in August 2018, Saudi Arabia postponed the much anticipated initial public offering. Nevertheless, Al-Falih has promised to bring this amount into the global industry, and the proceeds from the Aramco sale and the resulting business will be transferred to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

 

The PIF Program (2018-2020) is one of twelve Saudi “vision realization” programs. The program outlines Saudi objectives in local and international investments that will enable the diversification of the kingdom’s sources of development and growth. In total, with other revenues injected into the fund, it is expected to reach $3 trillion. The minister hopes that other industries will also be motivated to grow.

Saudi Arabia’s 2030 plan is an opportunity to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has strongly criticized decades of the Saudi addiction to oil – blaming it for the kingdom’s recession.  The sale of a small part of Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, will create the world’s largest investment support fund intended to operate in a wide range of capital markets, create more employment for women, and focus more on the dynamics of non-oil industries from mining to military hardware.

These goals are very radical in a country where 90 percent of the government’s revenues come from oil, and whose budget deficit has reached 13.5 percent of GDP since the fall in oil prices in 2016. The crown prince claims that the country can develop trade, investment, and foreign tourism to bring its non-oil revenues up to $600 billion by 2020.

Renewable Energy

 

At present, Saudi Arabia’s domestic consumption is fully dependent on hydrocarbon fuels, which accounts for a quarter of its oil and natural gas production. The government hopes to supply more oil and gas to lucrative foreign markets by replacing its reliance on it with atomic energy and renewable resources. The Saudi government plans to develop 30 solar and wind power plants over the next ten years. The plans will be part of a major $50 billion expansion plan for renewable energy to reduce dependence on oil by 2030.

Saudi Arabia is preparing itself to provide around 30 percent of its electricity needs over the next 20 years from its largest potential source of energy – solar power. It has one of the world’s highest levels of solar radiation and targets installing photovoltaic capacity of more than 41 gigawatts of electricity by 2032. To do this, Saudi Arabia has been counting on China’s help as a leading developer.

Riyadh hopes that in the decades ahead, it will contribute more to reducing its fossil fuel consumption to export markets, but the Saudi Energy Research Center has acknowledged that hydrocarbons will still have a major contribution to the energy basket by 2032 and beyond. The projections of the energy mix until then include 60 gigawatts (GW) of hydrocarbon fuels, 41 GW of solar energy, 17.6 GW of nuclear power, 9 GW of wind power, 3 GW of waste to energy, and 1 GW of electricity generated by geothermal energy.

Wind

Saudi Arabia has high potential for wind around the Red Sea and southeast of the country. Four large consortiums have signed contracts worth $500 million to build the first Saudi wind power plant. The contract is based on a 20-year Power Supply—Power Purchase Contract, signed by Saudi Power Company. The plant is expected to supply 70,000 Saudi Arabian households. In addition, based on Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision, American company General Electric will launch a pilot project for a 2.75-megawatt wind turbine for Saudi Arabia, expected to replace diesel fuel from one of Aramco’s refinery complexes.

Experts believe the wind industry in Saudi Arabia is an important step in the country’s energy resource shift strategy. The first large Saudi-scale wind turbine is actually an important chapter in Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its energy mix. Saudi Arabia’s Aramco Oil Company said it plans to turn the country into a clean and renewable energy hub through the construction and development of a massive wind project.

 

Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s oil giant, recently announced plans to allocate billions of dollars to build and develop a huge project called Spark, which will make Saudi Arabia the largest clean energy hub and facility. According to officials and executives of the company, the project will be completed in 2035, spanning a land area of 50 square kilometers, near the two cities of Dammam and Alhassa.

Experts estimate that the development and operation of this massive project will, directly and indirectly, generate over 100,000 jobs in Saudi Arabia, with positive changes in the infrastructure of industries and sectors.

Given the projected decline in world oil and gas reserves, many analysts have said for almost half a century now that all countries will have to fully utilize clean and renewable energies.

 

$7 Billion in Renewable Energy Projects Expected This Year in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia expects this year to launch several renewable energy projects, especially solar power plants, worth $7 billion. Turki Mohammed al-Shihri, director of the Saudi Renewable Energy Development Project Office, has claimed that bids will be issued for eight projects with a total capacity of 4.125 GW this year. The cost of these projects will be between five and seven billion dollars.

Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern oil producers are looking for renewable energy to grow domestic demand so that they can export more oil to receive higher oil revenues. Saudi Arabia is looking to install 9.5 GW of solar and wind capacity by 2023. Manufacturers have lowered their solar pricing offerings in recent years. Saudi projects this year include 3.3 GW of solar photovoltaic and 800 megawatts of wind.

The winners of these bids cover the cost of the tender, while the government guarantees that it will buy electricity from these projects within 25 years. The country plans to connect 3.45 GW of renewable energy by 2020, which includes 700 megawatts (MW) of solar and wind power, which has already been tendered. Saudi Arabia expects to receive the final proposals for a 400 MW wind power plant Northwest of the country by March 20th.

Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s oil giant, recently announced plans to allocate billions of dollars to build and develop a huge project called Spark, which will make Saudi Arabia the largest clean energy hub and facility.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is relatively costly, and in the long run, nuclear generators accrue significant expenses. In addition, there are the obvious dangers, both security and environmental, of nuclear power plants. Saudi Arabia is likely to follow other countries that typically have one or two nuclear generators, notwithstanding that they are not profitable for Western countries.

Nuclear energy is relatively costly, and in the long run, nuclear generators accrue significant expenses.

 

Saudi Arabia’s 2030 Program for Renewable

Saudi Arabia is moving toward new energy sources by the 2030s, but success depends on whether other resources will be available at affordable prices. Given the huge amount of oil resources available and vast amounts of extracted oil, in the short-term, the Saudis prefer to use these resources and sell their oil as much as possible. But today, there are more urgent needs for energy for making seawater potable and for economic development.

Saudi Arabia is geographically ideal for solar energy, perhaps uniquely so. In fact, this country could produce a lot of clean energy from the sun, but it will likely need countries like Sweden to help it develop clean-running transmission systems.

In Saudi Arabia’s vision, reducing dependence on oil revenues is the country’s most important economic target by 2030.

 

 

Challenges

In Saudi Arabia’s vision, reducing dependence on oil revenues is the country’s most important economic target by 2030. However, oil revenues will continue to be important for Saudi Arabia’s domestic political economy because its efforts in the areas of job creation and social services depend upon the continued inflow of oil revenues in the short-term.

Saudi Arabia will be a serious rival in attracting foreign investment to the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, including Iran, in line with the principles and plans outlined in the 2030 vision plan, and this could spell added tensions in the region.

The principal benefits of the Saudi diversification program, if achieved, are that it would buoy the Saudi economy and decrease the vulnerability of the country to fluctuations in the global oil market.

However, the implementation of this large program is dependent on oil revenues and the ability of the country to procure investment from abroad. Saudi Arabia’s oil marketing strategy, on the other hand, continues to expand investment in the refineries of countries with demand growth potential, especially China.

The consequences of the sale of part of Aramco, one of the first steps in this process, will likely be daunting to policy-makers, and may intensify internal disputes; yet, the sale of stock could be the beginning of a wave that provides a model for other governments with similar challenges in the region.

 

 

 

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Qatar’s Withdrawal from OPEC not a Good Sign

 

As Qatar’s withdrawal from OPEC takes effect today, the geopolitics of energy is changing. Each major energy producer is trying to take more shares in the world energy market. Political tensions between major oil and gas producers would affect regional and world energy markets. As the world’s largest exporter of LNG, Qatar gets the most revenue from it.

U.S. sanctions against Iran give an opportunity to Saudi Arabia which can use its producing capacity to produce and export more oil in the region in an attempt to weaken Iran’s position in OPEC.

A high oil price is not good for major oil consumers. The world oil market has been worrying about U.S.’sanctions against Iran.Regional tensions are one of the factors affecting members of the international organization. The tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which began in June 2017, would prevent Qatar from withdrawing from Saudi Arabia’s shadow even in an organization like OPEC. Qatar with production of 0.6 million bpd is not a major actor among OPEC members.

 

After a sharp rise in the price of crude oil to more than 100 U.S. dollars between 2011 and 2012, the price of crude oil gradually shrank in 2016 and reached a low of less than 40 dollars. The organization was unable to find a solution for the crisis, which had a huge impact on its member states.

Oil producers were able to cut crude prices to 70 dollars a barrel in mid-2018 with a drop in supply. But once again the policy of the largest oil producer Saudi Arabia, along with the White House’s political and economic measures and the gap in the queue of supporters for a reduction in production, led to a sharp drop in crude oil to about 50 dollars.

In a situation where the future of oil demand is not clear in the long run, the market management method and the call for Russia to counterbalance the U.S. are also challenges to OPEC.

South Pars Gas field (North Dome) shared by Iran and Qatar is a major source of Qatar LNG production. It is the largest gas field in the world. Qatar has made it clear that by 2024 it would have used South Pars to produce 110 million tons per year.

At present, Qatar produces 77 million tons per year. Qatar’s withdrawal from OPEC is a good opportunity to increase its production from this shared filed, Iran is unable to attract more foreign technology and financial investment and Qatar’s oil production in South Pars is more than that of Iran.

According to Reuters in November, Australia grabbed the world’s biggest LNG exporter crown from Qatar in November. According to statistics, Australia produced 6.8 million tons of LNG in November, out of which 0.6 million tons were exported from Qatar.

Australia’s LNG exports rose by 19 percent in November compared to October while Qatar’s exports dropped 3 percent in November compared to the previous month, the country’s fourth consecutive decline for the year in exports.

It is not the first time that an OPEC member has withdrawn from the organization. The main point is that OPEC’s decisions are not followed by major oil suppliers and Qatar’s withdrawal is certainly not good for OPEC. As Qatar is not a major oil producer among OPEC members, it cannot cause any major changes in the oil price.

The major factor in the oil market is demand and supply. At present, the oil market is faced with oversupply which leads to a low oil price. Qatar’s withdrawal from OPEC is not a good sign for its future. If OPEC is interested in playing an important role in the world oil market, it needs cooperation and coherence among all members.

If major members continue to be inefficient in OPEC decision-making, there will not be a promising future for the organization. OPEC’s weak position favors major energy consumers. Obviously, OPEC does not have the same influence on oil prices as it used to be. Its strength has slowly weakened due to the growth of producers such as the United States and Russia.

 

https://news.cgtn.com

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The geopolitics of US sanctions against Iran’s energy sector

Analysis: Sanctions against Iran provides the US with a sizeable number of consumers in need of alternative suppliers, perfectly placing it ready to pick up the slack.

US energy policy has rarely been inseparable from foreign policy, yet many energy security analysts have argued that if the Trump government wishes to have a more active foreign policy, then it has missed a trick in fully exploiting the country’s energy profile in its calculations.

Recent developments in US energy have had a direct impact on the changing outlooks of both energy-producer and consumers. Any crisis that has a direct impact on the production and supply of oil and gas, not to mention their transit to the market, is bound to shift the shape of regional and global alliances, given how critical security of supply is to every major actor in international affairs.

US exports of domestic energy still need to find a place on the market, with promises of LNG supplies only now beginning to have an impact.

Sanctions against Iran and Venezuela have provided the United States with a sizeable number of consumers in need of alternative suppliers, perfectly placing it ready to pick up the slack.

Moves towards further Saudi-Russian co-operation in boosting oil production in response to the second round of sanctions against Iran indicates the joint US-Russian-Saudi benefits that can be reaped from keeping Iran out of the market.

New sanctions against Iran’s oil industry, aimed at achieving zero oil exports, are still expected to bring a major shock to the oil market nonetheless.

New sanctions against Iran’s oil industry, aimed at achieving zero oil exports, are still expected to bring a major shock to the oil market nonetheless

 

The changing face of US energy relations

The Obama Administration had two  major goals in its boycott of Iran which aimed to bring pressure against the country’s nuclear programme. Obama hoped to reduce Iran’s exports of grain and prevent the transfer of Iranian oil money through the international financial system.

The Obama Administration was the first to limit Iran’s use of the Swift payment system. Later, it became clear that limiting Iran’s transfer of oil money through Swift had a greater impact than sanctions on Iran’s oil industry alone, as no matter how much the country managed to export in the face of sanctions, it could not receive any direct revenue.

Iran seeks to increase its political influence in the region by exchanging oil, gas and petrochemical products.

Over the course of the Obama Administration, Iran’s fledgling LNG sector suddenly had the plug pulled on it with the eventual evacuation of all international energy companies from the country. Although the effect of this was devastating for Iran, a more major shift in the international energy market came with the advent of US shale gas over the same period.

In 2011, America’s “blue print for secure future energy” relied significantly on increased shale production, claiming that the development of this energy source would help the United States provide its own future energy.

Before Obama’s presidency, US energy security strategy had already signalled that reduced gasoline consumption and diversification of fuel types would be beneficial to the country, but had not seemed to envision a situation in which the US could become a supplier herself.

Even before the onset of Obama’s sanctions, Iran lacked the means and investment to develop its energy productivity – even to meet its own domestic consumption. Most of Iran’s oil wells are in the second half of their lives and their annual production capacity is slowly decimating.

Iran seeks to increase its political influence in the region by exchanging oil, gas and petrochemical products

Despite the window provided in the years following the Nuclear Deal in 2015, not much headway was made before the Trump Administration sought to reestablish sanctions, thereby further delaying the Iranian energy industry’s ability to attain the capital and expertise it desperately seeks to make headway in production and its much-desired LNG facilities.

Also, due to the current saturation of the LNG market, partly thanks to the massive headway made by the United States, Iran has little chance of active participation even if it can magic up the funds required.

Trump sanctions

Although opposed to the nuclear deal, one of Trump’s goals in imposing new sanctions on Iran is undoubtedly to provide the necessary conditions for more energy exports and help boost the US energy industry. The hunt for new markets for US LNG exports can easily be cut short by leaving consumer markets with a deficit in supplies lost by their custom with Iran.

In 2018, the United States exported more than three million barrels of oil and condensate per day. Obama could not export LNG to South Korea, but by forbidding allies trade with Iran, the US is ready to take up the mantle of LNG exports to South Korea, and will likely attempt to do so with long-standing deals.

It should be kept in mind that the chemical specifications of Iranian crude oil are different from US crude oil, however, and thus US crude oil may only serve partly as an alternative to Iranian stock.

In 2018, the United States exported more than three million barrels of oil and condensate per day. Obama could not export LNG to South Korea, but by forbidding allies trade with Iran, the US is ready to take up the mantle of LNG exports to South Korea, and will likely attempt to do so with long-standing deals

he stability of the world oil market is currently in the favour of the US. Any increase in the oil market will directly affect the energy security in the US. The US government has often declared its intention to reduce Iran oil export to zero to fully capitalise on this position, yet in the short term it will not be as easy as hoped.

Iran’s role in world oil market may decrease, but Iran will be determined to maintain its share in regional market at least. Iran needs to play active energy diplomacy if it means to ensure this as current forecasts suggest a 50 percent decrease in sales since the period following the nuclear deal.

For a better understanding geopolitics of US sanctions against Iran energy sector one must also look to the outlooks of other major energy producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, as a counterpart in the world energy market.

Iran needs to play active energy diplomacy if it means to ensure this as current forecasts suggest a 50% decrease in sales since the period following the nuclear deal

Russian double play

Russia, as one of the largest producer of gas and gas in the world and thus a beneficiary of Iranian sanctions, has, nonetheless invested in the Iranian fields as recently as 2017, specifically the Aban and Far Aban fields with the help of Zarobzhanga.

The purpose of the contract was to increase the production and Russian companies have pledged to invest $50 billion in oil and gas fields. This move is purely a diplomatic gesture, as Russia invests in fields that do not threaten its share of production.

China

China is one of Iran’s main clients in terms of oil. In 2017, China imported around 780,000 barrels per day from Iran daily. The growing Chinese economy relies on reliable sources and Chinese companies have enjoyed a major presence in Iran’s energy sector in line with its strategic interests.

Given the importance of energy security for China’s economy and foreign policy, the country will tend to continue to import oil from Iran, but this does not been it will not seek other alternatives so as not to antagonise the United States.

Chinese energy firms have agreed to stay in Iran despite sanctions, taking over from Total, who have abandoned intentions to develop Phase 11 of the South Pars Field.

China firms have, however, been known to delay projects to no end in Iran, whilst moving considerably more proactively on neighbouring projects. Also, it is questionable as to how financially and technologically capable Chinese firms are in aiding Iran.

In recent years, China has made it possible for Iran to give its oil and gas to China in exchange for yuan to help channel away from the US-sanctioned SWIFT system.

In recent years, China has made it possible for Iran to give its oil and gas to China in exchange for yuan to help channel away from the US-sanctioned SWIFT system

The EU bind

The EU’s energy security has been of fundamental importance over the last decade. The United States, as an ally of the union, has always supported the policy of diversification on the continent to reduce its dependence on Russian energy sources.

 

On average, European countries imported 500,000 barrels of gas a day from Iran before the Obama administration’s sanctions. And despite EU enthusiasm for the nuclear deal as a means of pathing the way for further diversification, companies have once more been excluded for seizing the opportunity diplomatic ties allow for.

The European Union has faced difficulties in finding a member state that is willing to host a new financial channel to protect trade with Iran against US sanctions and may have to settle for merely helping Iran to continue to sell oil indirectly.

Indian exemption

India is the second largest oil customer of Iranian resources and has continued to import oil from Iran. Between April and August, India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran.

In September, India shipped 528,000 barrels of crude per day, thus showing the result of US pressure despite a limited exemption offered by the US. In addition to importing oil from Iran, India is also interested in participating in Iran’s oil and gas projects.

India is interested in investing in the Farzad Field, and, in 2017, offered $11 billion in investment, one of the best offers given to Iran in recent years, despite lack of progress due to international factors.

Between April and August, India imported 658,000 barrels of oil per day from Iran

Saudi Arabia has an active diplomacy in the Indian energy market too, and will use its investment capacity to influence India’s foreign policy to reduce reliance on Iran.

By early 2018, Saudi Arabia had 50 percent of shares worth up to $44 billion in refineries and the capacity to refine 60 million tons of crude oil. India imports oil from the United States too, with imports averaging to 228,000 barrels per day in June, compared to 98,000 per day in September 2017.

The United States is trying to reduce India’s share of Iran by exporting oil to the South Asian country. The US energy minister said American oil exports to India will increase in the future. The two countries also signed a 20-year contract for US LNG exports to India to increase US oil and LNG share in India’s energy basket and sustainability.

Sanctions will reduce Iran’s oil exports to India inevitably, despite Iran’s offer of discounts and to deliver using Iranian tankers, thereby lowering oil tankers insurance costs for India. This is likely to help maintain Iran’s share in the Indian market in the mid-term.

Economic and political benefits for the US

The shale gas revolution has transformed the United States into an oil, natural gas and LNG exporter. The flaring gas has turned not only into the American economic prosperity, but also as an effective tool in US foreign policy.

In the short term, the United States will not need to import oil from the Middle East while increasing its oil exports. Shale oil production in the mid-term has led to a serious excess of supplies.

Sanctions against Iran, matched in intensity with diplomatic moves to divert the custom of client states, simultaneously has a devastating impact in terms of leveraging US economic might over Iran.

Sanctions against Iran’s energy industry have not only reduced Iran’s oil and gas production capacity, but also reduced Iran’s share of the global energy market.

The rising lack of investment in the Iranian oil and gas industry is one particularly immediate result of the renewed sanctions.

Sanctions are one political instrument which will help the US to gain an immediately higher share of the world energy market and more economic and political benefits

In fact, Iran must now choose between its short-term and long-term interests: either the price of oil will go up so that foreign exchange earnings remain untapped or encourage other sellers to increase production and lower prices, so that US crude oil does not replace fossil fuels.

OPEC member states may prefer to maintain market stability. The strategic purpose of the Iranian oil and gas industry in the next two decades can be summed up as to “gain a greater share of global energy demand”.

This means maximising the benefits of international energy markets and increasing other countries’ dependency on Iranian oil and finding a strategic position for Iran in the global energy market. Maximising oil income requires the adoption of coordinated measures, increasing export volume and stability, or increasing the price of oil.

Under sanctions, Iran has little chance of earning capital and foreign technology, to the detriment of its share in the energy market, not to mention the shape of its economy in general.

Energy will continue to play an important role in US foreign policy, with implications not only on relations with designated rivals but also allies across the world. Sanctions are one political instrument which will help the US to gain an immediately higher share of the world energy market and more economic and political benefits.

Sanctions against major oil and gas producers would help the US to export more energy. Iran, for its part, needs to engage in more active energy diplomacy and adapt its foreign policy in the region if it hopes to mitigate the effects of US sanctions against its energy sector.

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