- The Writer holds an MSc in Eurasian Political Economy & Energy from King’s College London and also an MA in European Studies from Sabancı University.
Syria, which had 9 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas production before the civil war, is estimated to have a total of 230 bcm of reserves, plus offshore reserves of 170 bcm in the Levant basin. Although the Syrian natural gas sector has suffered serious setbacks due to the ongoing conflict, the biggest damage has been inflicted on the oil sector. The Oil and Gas Journal states that Syria has total gas reserves of 8.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) located in the country’s eastern and central regions. However, the country has not been able to export oil since 2011 due to the conflict and because of international sanctions. Before the war started, Syria had a production capacity of 370,000 barrels per day, and exported 150,000 barrels of this amount to Europe. Currently, one of the latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources states that crude production dropped as much as 28,000 b/d as of 2013.
In 2013, an exploration and production agreement was signed between Russia and Syria covering Syria’s exclusive economic zone. However, due to the ongoing war, no significant progress was made in the offshore exploration and production (E&P) activities in this region. In previous years, exploration and production activities carried out by Soyuzneftegaz did not result in the discovery of significant reserves, and to expect any breakthrough in this regard in the upcoming period is beyond the realms of possibility.
In another agreement covering a total area of 2,190 square kilometers signed in December 2013 between the Syrian government and Soyuzneftegaz, the company received an E&P license that allows for E&P in Syria's territorial waters. This exploration & production permit, which is the first sea drilling to be carried out in Syrian territorial waters, spreads to the region between the cities of Tartus and Banyas.
In 2011, 8.7 bcm of gas was produced in Syria whereas in 2012, this amount had decreased to 7.6 bcm and dropped further to 5.9 bcm in 2013. Syria, which has a total potential of 30 million cubic meters per day of natural gas production capacity decreased as much as 16.7 million cubic meters per day from 2014 due to destruction of its infrastructure and the seizure of its gas fields by opposition groups. In the following year with a production capacity of 15.6 million cubic meters per day, the total gas production declined to as low as 5.7 bcm by 2015. With the seizure of the Palmyra region where the most important gas fields are located, it is predicted that production will decrease even further to as low as 3.65 bcm per year. Consequently, total production has fallen to such a level that reliable statistics cannot be provided.
The Palmyra region, where the most advanced gas infrastructure is located, has been important for electricity generation since the 1990s. In 2013, 90 percent of electricity was generated with natural gas. The loss of the Palmyra region to the hands of rebel groups means a significant decline in electricity generation. The Palmyra gas fields, potentially capable of generating 9 million cubic meters of gas per day, are made up of gas fields including the Arak, Dubayat, Hail, Hayan, Jihar, al-Mahr, Najib, Sukhneh and Abi Rabah.
Syria, which started importing natural gas as of 2008, planned to produce all of its electricity production by utilizing natural gas power plants, but considering the current field conditions, the realization of this plan does not seem possible in the near future.
In 2009, Qatar introduced a natural gas pipeline project to export gas to the European gas market via using Saudi Arabia, Oman, Syria and Turkey’s territory. Russia was reluctant to approve such a project to be signed and realized since Russia would possibly lose its share in one of the most lucrative gas markets. Two years later, Syria decided not to take part in this project. However, as an alternative to this project, a plan to export 25 bcm of Iranian gas to the European market, which planned to pass through Iraq and Syrian territory, came on the agenda. Russia was inclined to play a key role in the shipment of gas from Syrian offshore to the European market, if this alternative project proposed by Iran was to be realized. As a result of the above-mentioned bilateral agreements signed in 2013, Syria has found itself in the middle of controversy in the energy diversification strategy between the United States, the EU and Russia. Following the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979, the U.S. imposed various sanctions on Iran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the U.S. would be very reluctant to see such a project realized in the region and would continue to prevent such a project being realized.
Natural gas production capacity in Syria was only enough to be consumed domestically however, production was slashed by 60 percent between 2010 and 2011 and came to a standstill by 2012. And to curb energy demand, gas was imported from Egypt through the Arab Gas Pipeline.
The ongoing war has taken a heavy toll on the oil and gas industry in Syria given that this sector contributed to 20 percent of the total budget. Before the war, approximately ninety percent of Syrian oil was exported to the EU market while the remainder was exported to Turkey. To a degree, gas imports have provided relief during the conflict, but it is unlikely that the country, which has been hit hard by sanctions and the war, will be saved anytime soon from its downward spiral of volatility and contraction in the near future unless a political settlement in the country can be found.
- Opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Anadolu Agency's editorial policy