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Iran seeks beat sanctions with pipelines

Oil pauses amid simmering geopolitical tensions
New York (AFP) Feb 18, 2011 - Oil prices closed lower Friday in New York despite continued tensions in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen and as worries ebbed over about the transit of Iranian warships to the Mediterranean. Prices for WTI crude for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 16 cents to $86.20 from late Thursday, ahead of a three-day weekend and the contract's expiry Tuesday. In London, Brent North Sea crude for April delivery gave up five cents to end trade at $102.52, after again pushing well past $104 on Middle East worries. WTI prices fell into negative territory just before the close after trading higher most of the day.

John Kilduff of Again Capital said traders had been eying the transit of two Iranian navy vessels through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, which top Israeli officials had labeled provocative and hostile. "It seems to be a perception issue over what this Iranian naval cruise to the Suez Canal represents for the stability of the region," he said. "Some details have emerged -- it is not necessarily as provocative as initially feared." Traders also had hopes that the violence in Bahrain, in the crucial oil-producing Gulf, would end with the crown prince's call for talks with protesters, Kilduff said. "This is how things evolved in Egypt," he said.

The huge spread between Brent and WTI continued to transfix the market. The two key factors -- Middle East political turmoil pushing up prices in Europe, while excess stockpiles due to transport bottlenecks pushing US prices down -- remain in place. But some analysts at JPMorgan said they expect the gap to narrow. "If the spread gets wide enough, all sorts of innovative alternative methods will be brought into play to move the oil," they said in a report Friday. "These will take time to set up, and will be price-sensitive, but there is every reason to believe that they will contribute to clearing this market."
by Staff Writers
Tehran (UPI) Feb 18, 2011
Despite tightening international economic sanctions, Iran is driving to boost its energy industry, including a natural gas pipeline to Iraq and Syria that may even run to southern Europe and another to run through Turkey to Europe.

Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency quotes the director of the National Iranian Gas Co., Mohammad Javad Oji, as announcing an agreement with Syria, Iran's main Arab ally, to build a 1,240-mile pipeline to carry Iranian gas to Syria across Iraq to power electricity generating plants.

The project, pumping 3.88 billion cubic feet per day through the 56-inch diameter pipeline, "will later extend through southern Lebanon to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe," Oji said.

Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Allawi was quoted as saying the strategic pipeline will at some stage "be connected to the Arab Gas pipeline" that runs from Egypt's Mediterranean coast to Israel and Jordan.

There have been plans to extend the Arab line to Syria but it's not clear whether that will proceed following the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a pro-democracy uprising.

In December, Turkey's state-run Petroleum Administration gave the green light for the Turang Transit Tasimacilik Co. to construct a gas pipeline from Iran across Turkey to Germany.

This project would allow Iran, desperate to upgrade and expand its investment-starved energy industry and break out of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union last June.

Iran has proven gas reserves of 1045.7 trillion cubic feet, the second largest in the world. But it is only able to produce a fraction of that, some 5.5 trillion cubic feet a year because of its international isolation.

The United States has long been striving to cut out Iran, along with Russia, from a network of pipelines across Central Asia and Turkey designed to carry oil and gas to Europe.

The prime example of that is the $4 billion oil pipeline from Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea via Georgia to a Turkish terminal on the eastern Mediterranean.

The 1,100-mile system built by British Petroleum is known as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and began pumping in May 2005.

Iran has long been viewed in some quarters as a possible gas provider to Europe, which wants to break Russia's stranglehold on its gas supplies.

For a time, it was considered a candidate for the 2,500-mile Nabucco pipeline to eventually carry up to 150 billion-459 billion cubic feet of gas per year from Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to Europe via Turkey.

Tehran is striving to boost relations with Turkey, its northern neighbor, to ease its international isolation while Ankara is determined to become a major regional power and a key energy hub between East and West.

That involves breaking away from its Cold War alliance with the United States and pursuing a more robust, independent policy. Thus Ankara's policies could play a significant role in helping Iran exports its gas.

The sanctions have "prevented Iran from bringing in experienced Western upstream operators capable of helping it develop its vast gas reserves, while dissuading potential gas buyers and forcing the Nabucco consortium to look elsewhere," according to a Feb.1 Oxford Analytica report.

"Against this, Tehran has encouraged interest from upstream operators in countries not directly involved in the sanctions, such as China -- which is reported to have invested close to $40 billion in the Iranian oil and gas sector -- and Turkey, which signed a far-reaching memorandum of understanding on cooperation in July 2007."

That involved Turkish state oil company TPAO developing three blocks of Iran's giant South Pars gas field in the gulf, with reserves estimated at 1,800 trillion cubic feet.

Large volumes of gas would be transported to Turkey via a TPAO-built pipeline.

Some would be re-exported to Europe, with the rest pumped to three Turkish-built power plants in Iran, with the power then exported to Turkey, a big step toward ensuring the country's energy security.

However, Analytica observed that Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, will likely "not commit publicly to joint projects if they pose a serious threat to its Western relations."

It added that "Ankara may succeed … in avoiding a confrontation with Washington while keeping a foothold in Iran, and keeping potential gas cooperation projects alive."

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