Iran and Azerbaijan share oil fields, so what’s stopping Tehran from drilling?

Iranian-Azerbaijani energy relations go back to the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union. Both countries hold large reserves of oil and gas, and Azerbaijan has used an active energy and foreign policy to carve itself a place on the world energy market.

 

The Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline project was the first major step for Azerbaijan in this endeavor. Both countries are interested in developing successful bilateral relations based on energy. Iran hopes to use the infrastructure of Azerbaijan, particularly the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to export its oil.

 

Iran also hopes to join the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline project in the future. However, at present, Iran has not enough natural gas to export to the EU or other countries.

 

Azerbaijan has also called on Iran to use its natural gas storage for use in times of increased consumption.

 

Shared fields in the Caspian Sea represent a potential basis for future cooperation. Azerbaijan has also invested in Iranian renewables as another potential platform for partnerships.

Iran is the only state in the Caspian Sea area which has no oil and gas activities in that region. This is due partly to the fact that the majority of Iranian oil and gas fields are located in its southern half and offshore in the Gulf.

 

Shared fields in the Caspian Sea here represent

a potential basis for future cooperation

 

The ability to harness the Caspian’s reserves is not just an issue of procurement but also about distribution pipelines, thus meaning further efforts are needed in conjunction with other nations.

 

Iran’s Caspian field, Sardar-e Jangal, was discovered in 2001. According to initial estimates, this field holds 50bcm of natural gas and 2bb of oil – of which Iran could expect to obtain 500 million barrels. After the signing of the nuclear agreement, Iran offered four projects in the Caspian Sea, blocks 24, 26 and 29, as well as the Sardar-e Jangal oil field, to foreign companies for exploration and development.

 

The development plan for the deep-water Sardar-e Jangal oil field is said to cost in the range of $7-10 billion, with Iran open to foreign investment for the project. Similarly, Iran has also invited foreign companies to invest in other fields. Iran is ready to attract foreign investment, and has frequently assured foreign companies with guarantees of the security of their investments – though such guarantees are constantly weighed up by investors vis-à-vis international developments in Iran’s foreign policy.

 

After the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran invited foreign companies to invest in its oil fields, with NIOC and Norway’s ORG signing a memorandum to study feasibility, as well as in three exploration blocks in the Caspian Sea. However, this agreement has so far resulted in little by way of actual progress.In a visit to Tehran by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in April 2018, leaders of both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the “Joint Development of Relevant Blocks of the Caspian Sea”.

 

This followed a visit to Baku by President Rouhani in March, during which both sides signed a protocol in agreeing that Iran’s state-run NIOC and Azerbaijan’s SOCAR would recover oil on a 50-50 basis. The Khazar Exploration and Production Company (KEPCO) was tasked by the NIOC to improve Iran’s share of oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea.

 

According to the document, a joint oil company would be established between the two countries, with the Alborz and Alvand fields identified as common areas in which Iran and Azerbaijan could enjoy an equal share.Iran has divided its exploration area in the Caspian into 46 blocks, eight of which have been given priority. Two blocks are shared with Azerbaijan.

 

Iran, between 2003 and 2005, carried out seismic tests across more than 4,000 square kilometres of the Caspian Sea at blocks 6, 7, 8 and 21. According to Mohsen Delvaz, CEO of KEPCO, Iran still need more exploration in order to have a clear estimate of how much capital will be required to launch extraction operations.

 

However, preliminary estimates indicate that at least $10 billion will be needed for the joint Iranian-Azeri oil field and between $7 and $10 billion for the Sardar-e Jangal field.

 

Iran is, again, open to foreign investment for the development in order to meet these heavy costs. But foreign companies remain wary, given the re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran.

One energy expert has pointed out that the Alborz and Alvand fields mark the first successful step towards stabilising Iran’s energy rights in the Caspian Sea, but the recent agreement has also been a cause for uncertainty.The challenges for Iran in extracting hydrocarbon resources from the Caspian Sea mainly draw from concerns about the depth of its waters and the land-locked nature of the sea. This results in a lack of connection with open water, operational restrictions related to transportation of equipment, the changing climate, the very difficult and complex nature of providing support due to distance from the coast, as well as the cost and risk of exploration operations, a lack of background in fleet maintenance and offshore services, and technological sanctions.

 

Iran has a lot of experience in the development and production of hydrocarbon fields

in the offshore sector

 

Of course, Iran has a lot of experience in the development and production of hydrocarbon fields in the offshore sector in general, but these experiences are of a completely different nature in the southern parts of the country and in the Gulf.

The Caspian Sea, due to its depth, requires special conditions at all stages of drilling, development, production and transfer.

 

The sanctions regime represents the over-riding issue in these challenges. It is possible for Iran to sign agreements with Chinese and Russian energy firms to invest in joint fields in the Caspian Sea, yet deals with China have so far failed to materialise.

 

Azerbaijan is far more active than Iran in the Caspian Sea. This is to expected, since the US withdrawal from the JCPOA allowed Azerbaijan to attract foreign technology and capital for extraction from a joint field with Iran, playing an important role in the regional energy market at Iran’s expense.

 

Furthermore, Azerbaijan can bolster EU energy security via the TANAP and TAP projects – of which Iran is not yet a part.Geological and financial problems will continue to plague Iranian efforts, yet an active regional foreign and energy diplomacy could yet lead to breakthroughs.

 

Chinese companies would not be the best option for Iran in terms of the Caspian, due to financial requirements and insufficient experience in deep water.The crucial issue is to resolve the tension with the west – and this requires engagement with the US. Without foreign financial capabilities and technology, Iran will face serious problems in playing a key role in the regional energy market and producing more oil and gas from joint fields, let alone those over which it has full sovereignty.

 

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Supporting TAPI, S Arabia tries to decrease Iran’s regional role: Expert

The long-awaited mega gas pipeline project of Turk­menistan, Afghanis­tan, Pakis­tan and India (TAPI) connecting the energy-rich Central Asian nation with the South Asian countries was inaugurated couple of days ago, with leaders of the four countries attending its groundbreaking ceremony in Serhetabat followed by another in Herat.

Considering the facts on the ground including political differences of the involved countries in the project and also insecurity and instability in the region many experts believe the successful realization of the project will depend on the ability of the project participants to maneuver through among others geopolitical, financial and technical challenges.

To discuss the issue, we reached out to Omid Shokri Kalehsar, Senior Energy Security Analyst in Washington.

 

Following is the full text of interview with him:

 

Considering the differences between India and Pakistan and instability and insecurity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, how successful do you see the future of this project?

 

The 1,814-kilometer gas pipeline will pass through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. At least 816 kilometers of the pipeline will pass through the territory of Afghanistan. Transport or transit security is an important part of pipeline project beside of security of supply and demand security, financial guarantee and financial sources are another key factors in any pipeline project.

 

The Turkmen economy has been fueled primarily by natural gas. Turkmenistan holds 32 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, the world’s fourth-largest reserves. With a small domestic market, Turkmenistan has been able to export the majority of what it produces. With regard to increasing energy demand in India, this country needs diversify energy supply, gas resources in Central Asia especially in Turkmenistan would be one of these resources. This project also would be beneficial for both Pakistan as consumer and transit country and for India as importer. There is a political tension in India and Pakistan relations and maybe TAPI would have positive effect of regional cooperation, stability and security. TAPI may be key factor in India- Pakistan relations to decrease tensions and develop bilateral relations. TAPI natural gas pipeline -which aims to connect Central Asian energy to South Asian consumers -each involve a high degree of intra-regional cooperation. Pakistan will gain transit fee from this project and also will consume natural gas imported by it.

 

 

How can this project affect the economy and security of the region particularly Afghanistan?

 

According to contract, Afghanistan will import gas via this project to meet it domestic demand and will gain $400000 to $500000 annually transit fee. This will help Afghanistan to gain more and partly recover its damaged economy. TAPI project will help Afghanistan to be an actor in regional energy market. The pipeline will pass through the provinces of Herat, Farah, Nimroz, Helmand and Kandahar. Taliban control these provinces. In statement which Taliban sent to local media, this group declared that they will not allow any group or state to disrupt this project. As Taliban controls this region, security threats against TAPI project in this part of Afghanistan will decrease and security concern will down.

 

Why does Saudi Arabia support the project?

 

These countries hold major oil reserves in the region and are trying to play an important role in OPEC and world energy market as well. Current tensions in bilateral relation forced countries to use any means to decrease counterpart role in regional security stability.  Saudi Arabia has expressed support for the TAPI transnational gas pipeline. Saudi’s financial support for TAPI would help Pakistan not to need Iranian gas. And it means that Iran will lose Pakistan natural gas market if TAPI materialize project. Last decade India was interested to buy Iran natural gas via Peace Pipeline, but due to US pressure this project did not materialize. It seems that when TAPI comes to online, India no more will be interested to Iran natural gas.  Pakistan and Afghanistan are Iran electricity buyer, during inaugural ceremony Pakistan and Turkmenistan agreed to export electricity from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and maybe in near future if this electricity export project materialize, Pakistan decrease electricity volume which imported from Iran.

 

What are the challenges and opportunities of the project for Iran?

 

Iran has plans to export natural gas to its neighbors, according to Iran 20 years development plan, Iran has to increase its share from world natural gas to %10. Iran signed agreement with Pakistan, Oman, and Iraq to export gas. At present only Iran-Iraq pipeline near to officially open. Pakistan is planning to import more LNG from Qatar, and last week Russian giant Gazprom announced that it  is considering the potential of delivering liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies to Pakistan by October 2017, Pakistan and Russia signed an intergovernmental cooperation agreement for the delivery of liquefied natural gas in October last year. Pakistan currently has two LNG import terminals in operation in Karachi, however, with a total capacity of around 9.5 mtpa, a significant supply shortfall of 19 million tons of LNG per annum is still expected. It seems that if TAPI will be successful and Pakistan import more LNG from Qatar and Russia there is no more need for Iran natural gas and Iran-Pakistan pipeline.

 

How do you evaluate Iran’s energy diplomacy?

 

Energy diplomacy is a reaction to geopolitical threats and limits. In other words, using diplomatic mobility, economic planning, developing technical capacities and using economic resources to provide all conditions required for activating energy diplomacy. Iran’s share in the world energy market is insignificant. Iran could play a more active role in the world energy market, and mobility in production, export, marketing, exploration and extraction in the energy sector could create a special position for every country. Iran must be more active in foreign diplomacy to eliminate problems with its neighbors.

 

Interview by Payman Yazdani

https://en.mehrnews.com/

 

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