Syria imported oil products worth USD 820 million between July and December last year, the prime minister said, giving a rare insight into a vital sector that is often defined by a lack of transparency.
In a parliamentary session on January 17, Prime Minister Hussein Arnous also provided a breakdown for the majority of these imports. According to his statement:
- The government imported 1.2 million tons of crude oil, worth USD 456 million, representing 56 percent of the total.
- It also imported 80,000 tons of liquid gas, worth USD 41 million, representing five percent of the total.
- Another 253,000 tons of gasoline were imported, worth USD 122 million, at 12 percent of the total.
- Another 195,000 tons of gas oil, worth USD 83 million, were imported, representing 10 percent of the total.
- The remaining quantities, worth USD 118 million, were not identified.
It is not clear how the government was able to secure the foreign currency necessary for these imports, especially given its need for foreign currency to fund non-oil imports as well.
It is possible that they were paid for using one of Syria’s previous credit lines from Iran. But the figures given by Mr Arnous would still represent a large amount—82 percent of the value of the most recent Iranian credit line, for instance. Given that even this would only represent half the year’s supply, it is unclear how the government has managed the rest.
Imports of 1.2 million tons of crude oil are equivalent to around 8,520,000 barrels of crude oil during the six months, using a rate of 7.1 barrels per ton. On a daily basis, that comes out to around 47,333 barrels of oil per day (bopd), which is roughly in line with The Syria Report’s calculation, based on shipping records, of 48,444 bopd in 2019 and 55,757 bopd in 2020. Because Mr Arnous only gave figures for six months, the average for the full year could be higher.
Mr Arnous also provided figures for local oil and gas production, saying that crude oil production was no more than 20,000 bopd and gas production was between 12.5 million to 13 million cubic metres of gas per day (cbmd). Former Minister of Petroleum Ali Ghanem said early last year that local crude production had reached 24,500 bopd, while local production of gas 17 million cbmd-level was put at 18 million cbmd in September.
The reason for the discrepancy between the two statements was not immediately clear. But in either case, production of oil and gas remains well below its pre-2011 levels of around 380,000 bopd of crude oil and 24 million cbmd of natural gas. Mr Arnous’s statement also suggests that there have been no recent improvements in production despite repeated government predictions that the sector’s outlook was improving.
Most of Syria’s oil producing fields lie outside of government control in the country’s northeast and are under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces.
Tanker attack claims
Significantly, Mr Arnous also claimed that there had been several attempts to disrupt tankers carrying oil to Syria last year. At least seven oil tankers were disrupted during their journey, he said, including two in the Red Sea. Iran has previously claimed that its tankers have faced attacks, but has not said who is behind the alleged attacks.
Mr Arnous did not explain the nature of the alleged attacks, nor did he say who was behind them, but blamed the disruptions for the oil crisis which started last year, saying that they led to a stoppage at the Banias oil refinery, which was left without supplies for a month. The claims, which have not been independently verified, are the first of their type made by Syrian government officials, who have previously blamed sanctions or routine maintenance for supply disruptions.
Mr Arnous also stressed that Syria would continue to import oil from Iran to plug supply gaps, but did not elaborate.