Through the gate of Syria, Russia on its way to take over Mediterranean gas
After the decline of military battles in Syria, Russian companies have started implementing the contracts and investment agreements it signed with the regime’s government, especially in the field of gas and oil exploration in the Syrian territorial waters in the Mediterranean.
During the past months, Russia and the Syrian regime have issued statements about the start of gas exploration. The first official announcement was on July 6 last year, by the Russian Ministry of Energy, which explained that the companies of JSC Zarubezhneft, JSC Zarubezhgeologia, STG Engineering and Technopromexport started geological prospection to explore land and sea energy resources in Syria.
On November 2, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Ghanem said that Syria would start oil and gas exploration operations in the land and sea in early 2019. “A long-term and targeted vision for several years reaching 2033 has been developed as part of the production, drilling, and exploration plan and the entry to the desired land or sea areas,” as the minister was quoted by the platforms of the Syrian Prime Ministry through social media sites.
For his part, Sergey Aksyonov, Head and Prime Minister of the Republic of Crimea (under Russia’s control), announced on December 31 the possibility of sending offshore drilling platforms of Chornomornaftogaz Company to the Syrian coast. These platforms are able to drill at any depth to explore for gas.
|The Russian and Syrian sides signed the ‘Amrit’ contract in 2013 for oil and gas exploration in the Syrian territorial waters. The contract includes exploration operations of 2190 square kilometers covering 25 years at a cost of $ 100 million, funded by Russia. In case oil or gas is explored in commercial quantities, Moscow will recover expenditures from production.
Figures that are not based on accurate scanning
Russia’s start of gas exploration comes amid absence of accurate figures on gas reserves in Syrian territorial waters. Nevertheless, there have been figures issued from research centers, including the Firil Center For Studies FCFS Berlin, which estimated in May 2017, in a report entitled “Syria at third international rank in gas production,” gas reserves of 28 trillion cubic meters.
In an interview with Russia Today (RT) TV in February 2018, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Ghanem stated that the maritime sector is a gas sector and it is very promising, and that there are large reserves in the Syrian maritime sections (blocks). He pointed out that the reserve of any of the blocks equals 250 billion cubic meters of gas.
These figures are still inaccurate and still fall within the framework of expectations and hopes, as they are not based on studies and geological scanning. They are rather part of media propaganda for the benefit of the Syrian regime as it is doing today in promoting the stage of reconstruction, according to the expert in the field of oil and mineral wealth, Abdul Qadir al-Alaf, in an interview with Enab Baladi.
The Syrian territorial waters are located in the Levantine Basin, which extends from the west of the Palestinian coast and Lebanon to the west of Latakia in Syria, and in which large gas reserves have been discovered, the largest of which was in Zohr Field off the Egyptian coasts, and Leviathan gas field off the Israeli coasts, with a potential reserves of 30 trillion cubic feet (84 billion cubic meters) for each.
However, Syrian economic analyst Sokrat al-Alou said that geological views suggest that Syria has the offshore gas reserves. Therefore, when the Syrian regime offered gas exploration contracts in 2013, no foreign company, with the exception of a Russian company, has signed a 25-year investment contract, in case gas is explored.
Al-Alou said in an interview with Enab Baladi that there is a geological opinion suggesting that Syria does not have offshore gas reserves. However, the center of the Mediterranean basin (the largest reservoir of gas in the Mediterranean) is on the Syrian (land) geography; especially in the area stretching from Deir Atiyah in Qalamoun al-Qastal in Homs, known as al-Dow basin. Al-Alou pointed out that the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources announced petroleum discoveries in 2009 in the region, but stopped the prospection works as a result of the outbreak of the Syrian revolution.
Former oil minister in the government of the Syrian regime, Sufian Allaw, said in August, 2011 that the natural gas reserves are estimated at 47 billion cubic meters in al-Dow basin,; while the Syrian Prime Minister, Imad Khamis, inaugurated a gas project at the regions of Qara and al-Bureij in the north of Damascus in May, 2017. The project was aimed at prospecting and extracting gas in the region of Qara. It also included digging several wells, namely “Qara 1″ with a daily production rate of 450 thousand cubic meters, “Bureij 1” with the production of 20 thousand cubic meters of gas daily, and the “Qara 3” with a daily production rate of up to 400 thousand cubic meters.
Russia did not only seize gas contracts at the sea, but also monopolized all energy contracts, as the cost of supporting the Syrian regime during the past years. The Russian authorities have fully taken in charge the gas file and other resources along with Iran, within agreements that reached for a period of 50 years. Thus, the contracts between the regime, Russia, and Iran were signed by the President, Bashar al-Assad; in order to grant durability to such agreements, according to expert Abdul Qadir al-Alaf. On the other hand, al-Alou considered that Russia has marginalized Iran and dominated the Syrian natural resources (gas, oil, and phosphate) by means of long-term contracts, noting that the Russians have invested in the Syrian gas fields from 10 to 15 years in return for 25 per cent of the total production.
Conflicts between countries: Russia and the role of the policeman
The Russian movements in Syria’s territorial waters coincides with the transformation of the Mediterranean basin into a region of competition and conflict between countries, like Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, and Lebanon, over the existing gas resources; in addition to Israel, which has already made profits so far, according al-Alaf. In fact, Israel has started extracting natural gas and signed a $15 billion contract with Egypt to import natural gas to the Israeli state for a decade. Nonetheless, the Israeli authorities have reached agreements with Cyprus, Greece, and Italy, in November, to establish a joint gas pipeline across the Mediterranean.
A dispute between Turkey and Cyprus has come to the fore over the share of natural gas found in the waters of northern Cyprus (Turkish-controlled territories), as Ankara sent the vessel FATEH 1 in October to start exploration, amid a military threat to address any attempt to intercept the ship.
There is also a conflict between Israel, Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza over the fields Marine 1 and Marine 2, which are located within the maritime border area between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Thus, Egypt has given up much of its share, according to al-Alaf who predicted a conflict in the eastern region of the Mediterranean over natural gas, amid the absence of the Syrian regime after handing the file over to Russia.
Ghanem expressed his government’s fear of future conflicts with neighboring countries in the locations where the gas was found; saying that there may be problems, but these disagreements can be overcome through diplomatic discussions and channels.
Al-Alou indicated that Russia may play the role of a policeman in the region and the maestro, who manages investments in a manner that does not contradict Russian interests. He indicated that Russia has the largest gas reserves in the world and supplies Europe with 41 per cent of its overall consumption. Any other gas source that will be directed towards the European continent will cause President Vladimir Putin’s concerns. That is why Putin will attempt to block any project of this kind, and will tolerate such future deals only if he would be involved as a partner and as a monitor in his own way.
Al-Alou added that Russia has managed to shut off the gate of the Mediterranean and cut the gas route to Europe through its military presence in the region. Russians were able to diminish the attempts made by the Gulf countries and Iran to supply gas pipelines through Syria. Hence, the Russian role in the current gas discoveries in the region was enabled through Russia’s friendly relations with Israel. On the other hand, mutual security coordination is established between the Israeli authorities and Russian companies that won investment contracts in the Israeli gas fields. According to al-Alou, whoever controls Syria can also control Lebanon, regardless of any type of governments to be appointed in the future. Additionally, he indicated that the eastern Mediterranean region has become a stage of the operations of Russia, the largest force in the area.
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