(Simon Watkins) The geopolitically game-changing Goreh-Jask pipeline project saw a major advance last week with the commencement last week of offshore pipe-laying operations. The implementation of this operation markets the first stage of the offshore development of the Jask Oil Terminal and, according to the Pars Oil and Gas Company, this offshore section of the early-production phase of the project will be completed with the construction of two 36-inch offshore pipelines running for around 12 kilometres and a single buoy mooring with ancillary equipment. Overall, the company added, the early-production phase of the Jask Oil Terminal Development Project is 70 per cent complete, allowing the project to come online by late March.
After the completion of this first phase of offshore pipeline laying, the Goreh-Jask pipeline will begin full pumping tests aimed at ascertaining its capacity to transfer 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light, heavy, and ultra-heavy crude oil through the 1,100 km-long, 46 inch diameter pipeline that runs from the Goreh oil terminal in the north-west Bushehr Province to Mobarak Mount in the western Jask region along the Sea of Oman. This will involve the construction and deployment of 83 42-inch valves relating to the gate, control and emergency shut-off functions in the pipeline project, six smaller pipelines, five pump houses, three stations for receiving and sending pipeline pigs, 10 power stations, 400 kilometres of transmission lines, three single point moorings, subsea pipelines, and a stilling basin.
The initial focus of the oil-transfer chain across the Goreh-Jask pipeline will be the huge oil fields cluster in the West Karoun region, which are the current focus of plans between Iran and China to boost short-term oil production as part of the two countries’ 25-year plan. The starting point of the transmission route in this first phase is the West Karoun pumping station, the middle point is the Omidieh pumping station, and the end stage is the Bahregan and Jask terminals. After the initial testing of the first phase infrastructure has been completed, with 350,000 bpd transferred, the figure will be increased to a daily delivery capacity 460,000 bpd of heavy crude oil and 254,000 bpd of light crude oil to export terminals. Phase 2 will involve the transfer more than one million barrels of crude oil to export terminals. These amounts are realistic, as the West Karoun oil fields’ cluster alone comprises North and South Azadegan, North and South Yaran, and Yadavaran – plus some lesser fields – which together contain at least 67 billion barrels of oil in place.
The oil will then be stored once it has arrived in Jask in one of the 20 storage tanks each capable of storing 500,000 barrels of oil, in the first phase (totaling 10 million barrels) for later loading on to very large crude carriers (VLCCs) headed from the Gulf of Oman and into the Arabian Sea and then on to the Indian Ocean. The second phase will see an expansion to an overall storage capacity of 30 million barrels. These VLCCs will be accommodated in shipping facilities costing around US$200 million in the first phase, although the plans are to expand capacity to allow for further regular shipping of various oil-adjunct and petrochemical products in particular demand in Asia. As an adjunct to this, three single-point moorings (SPM), and other infrastructure features for the import and export of crude oil and other products are under construction. An SPM loading system with a capacity of 7,000 square metres per hour of loading capacity is also being installed in Assaluyeh, southern Iran, according to Hossein Azimi, director of the Pars Oil and Gas Company that oversees developments at Iran’s supergiant non-associated natural gas field, South Pars. This would augment gas condensate loading capacity of the field and will further allow for the handling of liquid cargo, such as petroleum products, for tanker ships.
Over and above the technical details involved in the Goreh-Jask pipeline project, the key point is that the pipeline will allow Iran another method by which it can export huge amounts of oil without being prey to U.S. sanctions and it will also allow Iran to do this whilst at the same time causing chaos for a third of the rest of the world’s oil shipments through blockading the Strait of Hormuz, should it wish to do so again. “The logistical model Iran has at present is not sustainable in the current circumstances, with around 90 per cent of all of its oil for export currently loaded at Kharg Island – with most of the remaining loads going through terminals on Lavan and Sirri – making it an obvious and easy target for the U.S. and its proxies to cripple Iran’s oil sector and therefore its economy,” a senior oil and gas industry source who works closely with Iran’s Petroleum Ministry told OilPrice.com. “Conversely, Iran wants to be able to use the threat – or reality – of closing the Strait of Hormuz for political reasons without also completing destroying its own oil exports revenue stream,” he said.
Even before U.S. sanctions were re-imposed in May 2018, the Kharg terminal was not ideal for use by tankers as the narrowness of the Strait of Hormuz means that they have to travel extremely slowly through it, meaning that the transit cost increases, there are delays in revenue streams, and they are easy targets for even simple attacks. Additionally positive for Iran is that having a huge oil storage capacity available just a short direct sea journey away from Pakistan and then on into China is likely to result in the final go-ahead for the construction of the Iran-Pakistan oil and gas pipeline, and then put further pressure on the developing India-UAE-U.S. relationship as India may well think that resuscitating the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is preferable to the current plans with the UAE. It also means that Iran can send oil supplies – and anything else it wants in the tankers – to the Houthi faction in Yemen to keep a constant threat to the Saudi southern flank and also to militia groupings in Somalia and Kenya.