Defying US Sanctions; Iran’s Oil and Gas Drilling Unabated

In a new sign of overcoming US sanctions and insistence on beefing up its suffering economy, Iran has recently announced the completion of 41 drilling projects over the period of only four months. The wells included both appraisal and workover, sea and land, oil and gas wells.

Iranian news outlets confirmed the achievement despite growing tension in the Persian Gulf region, following so-far heated verbal exchanges and threats between Tehran on one hand, and Washington, and to a lesser degree, London, on the other.

Tension escalated following the seizure of an Iranian super tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, and later the reciprocal detention by Iran of a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. Earlier on, suspected mine attacks targeting six tankers and ships off the shores of al Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, and drone attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi Yemeni rebels against strategic Aramco oil installations and oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia also took place.

Those incidents rocked the oil markets and shook international insurance companies, fearful of a new tanker and oil war that could easily jeopardize the sensitive security and safety in the Gulf, and along with it oil and gas markets, as well some major world economies that rely on Iranian and Arabian oil supplies. Some 40% of world’s supplies pass through the strategic strait of Hormuz, tightly controlled by the Iranians.

Digging for the Black Gold

Amidst a series of contributing factors in this volatile atmosphere, Tehran confirmed that NIDC, the National Iranian Drilling Company, has completed digging operations of 41 new oil and gas wells during the first four months of the current Iranian calendar year (March 21-July 22).

Mohammad Al-Khamis, Iran’s deputy managing director of NIDC for drilling operation, announced that over 50,929 meters of digging was carried out as part of the aforementioned 41 onshore and offshore wells, confirming that “29 wells were drilled in the fields operated by National Iranian South Oil Company (NISOC), three wells by Iranian Offshore Oil company (IOOC), two wells in the fields under operation by Iranian Central Oil Fields Company (ICOFC), three other ones by Petroleum Engineering and Development Company (PEDEC), and four wells by other companies.” According to the Iranian official, 13 drilling rigs are currently operating in various offshore or onshore fields.

A subsidiary of National Iranian Oil Company, NIDC owns 75 drilling rigs, and carries out the majority of drilling operations across the country. The company boasts a staggering 4,489 onshore and offshore oil and gas wells, drilled in approximately 40 years. Its rigs were used, among other massive projects, in South Pars, the world’s largest gas field shared between Iran and Qatar in the Persian Gulf.

Surprises in the Volatile Gulf

Observers and oil market analysts are keeping their fingers crossed that the decision by the Trump administration to extend the current sanctions alleviation by three months, suspending punitive measures on countries still importing Iranian oil and gas, mainly China, Turkey, Japan and India, will help in easing tension in the Gulf region.

On the other bank, Iranian authorities must have been heartened by the recent surprise visit to Tehran by a senior UAE delegation headed by Mohammad Ali Saleh Al-Ahbabi, Commander-in Chief of the Emirati Coastal Guard Force, who discussed with his Iranian counterpart, General Kassim Ridai, and other officials the matters of security coordination, security arrangements and safety of maritime navigation in the Gulf.

Backdrop of Yemen War

The UAE move was widely seen as a gesture of rapprochement with Iran, and a significant step at the heels of a landmark UAE decision to draw down its forces fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen; a move that has shaken the Saudi-led coalition waging a desperate, costly and frustrating war in Yemen for the fourth year running without any tangible results. That is – maybe except for humiliating the Saudi Crown Prince MBS, who had pledged to end the situation and win the war in Yemen in one month.

Four years later, and with thousands of Sudanese and African forces and mercenaries, as well Black Water, MBS appears more and more lost in vicious circle of the Yemeni quagmire. If the Iranians succeed in pulling the UAE away from the Saudi-led coalition, given the increasingly diminishing public Emirati support for the hopeless war in Yemen that has cost them dearly, Tehran could easily break the war effort there once and for all.

With the massive new oil and gas projects completed, Iran’s economy is set to go stronger, and given its overwhelming military power in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia could soon find itself going it alone. Unless Riyadh rethinks and re-positions itself versus the many conflicts and challenges in the region, it could easily turn out to be the biggest loser who has granted Iran several regional laurels of triumph on a golden plate.