Pipeline Politics

November 23, 2015 Articles 0

131Q_17_ Great Exploration Picture3Meet the North Dome Field and the South Pars Field, a natural gas condensate field located in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Qatar. It is the world’s LARGEST gas field, accounting for 19% of the world’s recoverable gas reserves, shared between Iran and Qatar.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the field holds an estimated 1,800 trillion cubic feet (51 trillion cubic metres) of in-situ natural gas and some 50 billion barrels (7.9 billion cubic metres) of natural gas condensates. This gas field covers an area of 9,700 square kilometres (3,700 sq mi), of which 3,700 square kilometres (1,400 sq mi) (South Pars) is in Iranian territorial waters and 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 sq mi) (North Dome) is in Qatari territorial waters.

The estimates for the Iranian section are 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in place and around 360 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas which stands for 36% of Iran’s total proven gas reserves and 5.6% of the worlds proven gas reserves.

The estimates for the Qatari section are 900 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas which stands for almost 99% of Qatar’s total proven gas reserves and 14% of the worlds proven gas reserves.

And it is the real reason for the war in Syria.

Competing Pipelines and Russian Energy Dominance

Europe has long since sought to wean itself off its dependence on Russian gas. Russia provides Europe with almost 40% of its gas needs but many countries rely on Russia for 100% of their gas or a very significant percentage. For over 10 years negotiations have been taking place to open up what is often referred to as the “Southern Corridor” which would transport resources from energy rich Azerbaijan into Europe. The original proposal was called the Nabucco Pipeline which aimed to diversify the natural gas suppliers and delivery routes for Europe, thus reducing European dependence on Russian energy. Ultimately Moscow was able to safeguard its dominant market share in Central and Eastern Europe, where Gazprom faces little competition, by pressuring most of these countries to support Gazprom’s South Stream pipeline, a rival to Nabucco that flows under the Black Sea.

Nabucco

The original Nabucco Pipeline proposal

The Nabucco project ended in failure in 2013 when a much watered down version called the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline was selected which did little to help Central and Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania who depend on Russian gas. Russia’s South Stream project was torpedoed in December 2014 following obstacles from Bulgaria and the EU, the 2014 annexation of Crimea, and the imposition of European sanctions on Russia. For the moment it is unable to increase its supply of gas to Central and Eastern Europe but nevertheless its energy dominance in the region is absolute.

Persian Gas and the Syria Connection

Early on there was a realisation that Azerbaijan’s 29 cubic million feet of yearly gas production could never compete with Russian supplies to Europe and the West was already looking to replace the Southern Corridor with resources transported from the Persian Gulf. For decades Iran and Qatar have been seeking to fully exploit the North/South Fields by exporting the gas directly to energy hungry Europe. Qatar proposed an “Arab Gas Pipeline” that crosses Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey where it flows into Europe. This pipeline is supported by the West, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and the Gulf states.

QatarTurkeyGasLine_01Iran proposed an Iran-Iraq Pipeline that flows east to west from Iran, through Iraq, Syria and leaves Syria near the port of Tartus where it is exported to Europe, effectively by-passing Turkey completely. Often dubbed the “Islamic Pipeline” the Arab Gulf states view the pipeline as a Shiite pipeline serving Shiite interests. After all, it originates in Shiite Iran, passes through Shiite Iraq, and flows into Shiite controlled Syria.

The common denominator in both these pipelines is Syria. Due to its geographical location both pipelines have to pass through it. With around 120 miles of coast line, Syria’s geographic location on the Mediterranean Sea makes it an obvious export center for landlocked oil producers within the greater Middle East seeking to export their oil and gas reserves to European markets. And while Syria’s strategic location and warm water port on the Mediterranean may have been considered a national asset in times past, it is now a major liability amid the 21st century game of empire. In 2011 Assad announced his support for Iran’s pipeline and Syria now sits near the center of a competing effort by Sunni Islamic kingdoms and Western nations to pump cheap Middle East gas supplies to Europe and beyond.

When it became clear that Assad would support the “Islamic Pipeline” Syria started its descent into chaos and Saudi, Qatari and Turkish military and economic support started to flow to the “rebels” that opposed Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s civil war is not one of ideology or the promotion of freedom and democracy, the reason behind it is the same as most other wars in the Middle East – natural resources. Now we can understand why the three countries that stand to benefit the most from the Arab Gas Pipeline are most active in trying to topple Assad’s regime in Syria by supporting radical Islamist groups like Al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and yes, even Daesh (ISIS). And now we can understand why Russia will not allow that to happen and will protect its own economic interests and militarily support Assad. And now we understand why the US and Europe really want Assad gone. Just think for a few seconds about the level of hypocrisy when you hear Western (and Gulf) nations state that “Assad must go”. Do we really want to free Syria of Assad because he is a dictator that represses his people? We love dictators! On a brutality scale of 1 to 10 Assad’s regime hardly registers on the scale when we compare it to Saudi Arabia, our number one ally in the region, who incidentally has beheaded more people in 2015 than Daesh.

Even if you believe that Syria’s civil war had it’s roots in the original Arab Spring of 2011 foreign agitation was reported from the very start. The uprising was carefully engineered and manipulated by the West and the Gulf states and just like in Libya and Iraq no-one really cares about the state of the country that is left behind, as long as there is a profitable pipeline that runs through it. The Middle East is being torn to shreds by insane plans to gain oil and gas access by pitting people against one another based on religion. The ensuing chaos provides ample cover to install a new regime that’s more amenable to opening up oil pipelines and ensuring favorable routes for the highest bidders. And the victims are 300,000 innocent civilians and conservative estimates of 10 million displaced Syrians that have lost everything.

This insanity needs to stop.

Laurence Flynn

Thanks for reading! I’m an English ex-pat living in Japan for 17 years who spend his days in school, running internet-based businesses and shaking his head at American politics and foreign policy. If you really want to know more you can click here.

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