Nothing gets oilmen more excited than the idea of building
pipelines from exotic, hard to reach places to seaports where the
product of their endeavors can be shipped to lucrative foreign
These reveries have been most pronounced with the opening
since 1991 the riches of the Caspian Sea basin.
Previously divided between the USSR and Iran, now five nations
rim its shore-Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and
charter member of the axis of evil, Iran.
Of the quintet, all for the former Soviet Socialist republics
have benefited from selling their wares to hungry Western
This leaves Iran as the odd man out, which has been subjected
to the US sanctions since the Islamic revolution of 1979
overthrew the Shah, placing the country in direct confrontation
with Washington, a situation heightened by the takeover of the US
Embassy in Tehran.
While the mullahs of Iran have stridently maintained that the
U.S.-led sanctions have had little effect on their economy, the
reality is that they have been extremely notable in their impact
on the country's energy industry, where a relative lack of
investment has severely dampened the country's ability to
Iran is currently OPEC's third largest exporter, with an
output of roughly 4.5 million barrels per day. Many analysts
believe that Iran could easily double this output if US sanctions
were lifted and foreign investment was allowed freely into the
country's energy industry.
Of all the countries hydrocarbon assets sidelined by the
imposition of sanctions in 1979 none has suffered more than the
country's nascent natural gas industry, which has been largely
stymied by a lack of investment and access to advanced Western
technologies capable of exploiting the country's vast natural gas
The Caspian basin has used more pipeline reveries than any
other part of the world. Some of these have come to fruition,
most notably the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (
) pipeline, which now pumps roughly one million barrels a day of
Azeri crude oil to Turkey's Mediterranean deep water port at
Two other pipeline projects exploiting Caspian reserves remain
as yet unfulfilled - the grandiosely named Nabucco natural gas
pipeline, designed to bring Caspian natural gas to lucrative
markets of eastern and central Europe, and the
Trans-Afghan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline, designed to bring
the riches of Turkmenistan's vast natural gas fields to the
booming Pakistani and Indian energy markets.
Both pipelines are a long shot at best. The Nabucco pipeline,
designed to transmit roughly 30-35 billion cubic meters (bcm) of
natural gas per year, at present has promised throughput of only
7 billion bcm per year of Azeri natural gas, produced by
Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz offshore Caspian field. None of Nabucco's
myriad numerous supporters have yet to explain where the
remaining deficit of throughput will come from. Many optimists
believe that somehow an undersea Caspian natural gas pipeline
will be constructed from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan conveniently
overlooking the fact that the Caspian seabed, 20 years after the
collapse of the USSR, has yet to be definitively divided among
the five coastal states.
TAPI sufferers from similar dreams of grandiosity. A pipeline
across Afghanistan and Pakistan, good luck.
But, apparently, the mullahs in the Tehran are and drinking
the Caspian Kool-Aid is well.
The newest proposed pipeline from the Caspian is, according to
the Teheran Times, Iran, Iraq, and Syria signing a deal for the
construction of the Middle East's largest gas pipeline, which
would transit Iranian gas from Iran's South Pars gas field to
Europe via Lebanon and the Mediterranean.
A pipeline from Iran (quiescent) via Iraq (rather less so)
through Lebanon (a fragile state at best), or via Syria ) if
al-Bashar survives in Damascus.)
Reveries apparently run from East to West as well.
By. John C.K. Daly of