With a week to go until U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil snap back, it’s not only Iranian crude exports that the United States looks to cut.
Iran’s neighbor Iraq currently trucks small volumes of crude oil from its northern Kirkuk oil field to Iran in exchange for Tehran delivering the same amount of its oil to Iraq’s southern ports.
In November, Iraq will halt trucking of oil to Iran to comply with the U.S. sanctions, five sources with knowledge of Iraqi oil export plans told Reuters last week.
Although Iraq’s current export volume to Iran is quite low—less than 30,000 bpd, according to Reuters sources—the move to halt even this amount signals that Iraq won’t be risking the wrath of an ally which provides security and training.
The U.S. sanctions on Iran have been putting Iraq in a tight spot—on the one hand, Baghdad’s trade is closely linked with its neighbor Iran, but on the other hand, the United States is an ally that helps with security.
Baghdad has been saying that it would abide by the U.S. sanctions on Iran. Both former Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and the newly sworn in Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi have said that even if they were not too happy with the sanctions, they would follow them. Mahdi, who was sworn in as prime minister last Thursday, said that Iraq would prioritize its own interest in helping the United States to enforce the sanctions on Iran.
According to a Reuters source familiar with Iraq’s export plans, the United States has been pressuring Iraq to halt the trucking of oil to Iran and to resume the exports of oil from the northern oil fields to Turkey.
“If Turkey gets more oil from Iraq, it will be more difficult for Ankara to argue it needs a U.S. waiver to continue buying Iranian oil,” the source told Reuters.
Around 300,000 bpd of crude oil previously pumped and exported in the Kirkuk province to the Turkish port of Ceyhan have been shut in since the Iraqi federal government moved in October last year to take control over the oil fields in Kirkuk from Kurdish forces. Related: Can Angola Overhaul Its Struggling Oil Industry?
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) reached a deal with the outgoing federal government of Iraq last month to resume those flows, but the deal needs to be approved and signed by the new prime minister and government, according to Reuters sources.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said that Iraq alone could add 300,000 bpd of oil to global supply if it allows Kurdish oil to reach international markets. Saying that the United States won’t sell crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), Secretary Perry also noted that he was “comfortable that the world supply can absorb the sanctions that are coming.”
Meanwhile, a week before the U.S. sanctions on Iran return, the Islamic Republic continues to claim that no country has “the means to stop Tehran from exporting crude oil.”
“The sanctions, more than harming us, would be hurtful to the US; Trump policies have raised the global oil prices which would not be to our loss, and we have been able to find new customers for our oil,” Gholamali Jafarzadeh, a member of Iranian parliament, told the Iranian oil ministry’s news service Shana on Sunday.
Iran also said that it had started selling in the weekend crude oil on its energy exchange, with eight shipments of 35,000 barrels of crude oil purchased at $74.85 a barrel on Sunday. Related: Innovations Are Rocking The Battery Industry
Meanwhile, Iran’s exports of crude oil and condensate have been falling since June, the EIA said last week, quoting data from ClipperData. Iran’s exports peaked in June at about 2.7 million bpd, up by 300,000 bpd from the average during the first four months of the year, before the May announcement of the U.S. sanctions. To compare, Iran’s crude oil and condensate exports fell to 1.9 million bpd in September.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier this month that it would be more difficult for Iranian oil customers to get waivers from the sanctions than it was during the Obama administration, and the U.S. would issue waivers, if any, only to buyers that have significantly reduced Iranian purchases.
The oil market is grappling with two key uncertainties regarding the sanctions on Iran—how much oil will come off the market and how reliable tracking oil exports will be going forward, considering that Iran is said to have already launched the furtive tactics to avoid oil cargo tracking by switching off transponders on board of some ships.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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