Shana news agency reported earlier this month that Iranian experts have discovered a large natural gas field 700 meters under the surface of the Caspian Sea.
The Iranian Minister for Petroleum, Rostam Qasemi, was quoted as saying that the entire field is inside Iranian territorial waters and contains several times the originally estimated volume of 31 billion cubic meters. Qasemi pointed out that only a few countries have the technology available to find gas fields at that depth, calling Iran the only country in the Middle East with that ability.
But a cable sent in 2009 form the U.S. embassy in Baku (Azerbaijan) to Washington published on Wikileaks points out that Norwegian, Chinese and Brazilian companies were involved in the exploration. Experts from Norway, Brazil, China and possibly other countries were present on the Iranian drilling platform Iran Alborz.
Moreover, the location of the newly discovered gas field seems to be clearly outside of Iranian waters. The position was reported by the energy news website Natural Gas Europe as being somewhere west of the island of Ogurchinkyi in Turkmenistan.
Largely because of Iran’s stubbornness in that matter, there is still a territorial dispute between the six countries sharing the Caspian. Iran insists that it is owning of 20 percent of the surface, while according to a wider understanding its territorial waters only encompass 14 percent.
If Iran goes ahead with the exploration and production, the stage might be set for confrontation with neighbours like Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
But despite claims that the Islamic Republic has the technology to embark on such a project, international analysts are doubtful. With sanctions tightening Russia and China are the only countries that are able to help with technology and experts.
Another question that remains to be answered is: what is Iran to do with its new wealth. Gas markets in Europe are off-limits because of sanctions. The domestic market needs some gas – especially in the north of the country – but what about the rest?
Transport to East Asia is also out of the question for lack of pipelines and tankers cannot be used because there is no foreign investment available to build liquefying plants.
Despite the apparent hurry to get the gas out of the seabed, there are a lot of problems to be solved for the mullah regime before the money can be counted. And with sanctions over the nuclear threat and the domestic press full of announcements about blocking the Strait of Hormuz, these problems are unlikely to go away anytime soon.