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Several recently published articles, and some Kos comments, claim that Syria's refusal to site a natural gas pipeline is the real reason the US is considering military action in Syria.

The claim is that in 2009, Syrian leader Assad blocked a Qatar-to-Syria-to Europe natural gas pipeline.  Syria blocked the Qatar line to protect their Russian ally’s near-monopoly on natural gas sales to Europe. Then Syria planned its own gas pipeline to Europe with Iraq and Iran. This all angered Qatar, who then poured $3 billion into funding the Syrian rebels to overthrow Assad, clear their pipeline’s path, and kill the Iran/Iraq pipeline.

  Now, the theory continues, the US will attack Syria to help its allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia get their gas pipeline through Syria to Europe. On the other hand, Russia backs Assad to protect their gas monopoly from competition from the Qatar pipeline.

“Pipelineistan” is the shorthand for this and similar assertions that hidden struggles for key oil and gas pipeline routes throughout the Middle East and the “Stans” are actually fueling most current conflicts there, including the Syrian civil war.

I’ve dealt with natural gas pipelines in the US at times, over the last 25 years, and know a little about the industry.  The US has almost 300,000 miles of major gas pipelines, with new lines constructed frequently with little fuss.  I am skeptical that the failure to construct a single pipeline in the Mideast would trigger US involvement in the Syrian Civil War, as these articles claim.

Permit me to present my arguments why “Pipelineistan” was unlikely to trigger the Syrian civil war, much less US involvement.

Qatar is a small country on a peninsula reaching northeast from Saudi Arabia, into the Persian Gulf, towards Iran. Qatar has plentiful oil reserves, and possesses, with Iran, one of the world’s largest natural gas fields just off its shores. Natural gas costs about 75 cents (per million BTUs) on the Arabian Peninsula, but sells in Europe for about $11, so there’s a huge profit margin, minus costs of shipping.

According to Pepe Escobar in Asian Times, and others, Qatar wants to crush Assad for blocking a 2009 effort by Qatar to run its own pipeline through Syria to Europe, and because Syria was promoting a competing pipeline in league with Iraq and Iran.

  That’s why Qatar is financing the rebellion to overthrow Assad.  And that’s why Russia backs Assad, because he quashed the Qatar pipeline that would compete with Russian gas sales.

That's the theory.  However, while Qatar would profit from a pipeline, they have wisely invested, for the last several years, in massive facilities to “freeze” natural gas (into liquefied natural gas, or LNG) and ship it around the world in specialty tankers.  Their world-leading ability to ship LNG, including shipments to Europe, means that a pipeline, while convenient, is not a life-or-death matter. The Syrian denial of Qatar’s pipeline only meant that Qatar will ship LNG to Europe by tanker, rather than by pipeline.  That raises their gas sale prices by less than 1 percent, compared to using a pipeline.

That doesn’t even take into account the $10 billion price tag to build that Qatar-Syrian pipeline, and the substantial ongoing costs to operate and maintain –- and protect it.  The existing Egypt-Lebanon gas pipeline was blown up a dozen times last year.  LNG shipments may be more secure than trying to protect a several-hundred-mile-long pipeline through lands you do not rule.

Lowering shipping costs by 1% is a good idea, but is it really a likely justification to finance a war against your neighboring country?  Qatar is already selling 30% of its gas to Europe as LNG, with high profits, without a pipeline.

It's clear why Qatar would want a pipeline to supplement and increase its LNG shipping capacity.  Their LNG tankers must access the world through the Straits of Hormuz, which are subject to occasional shooting wars.

However, even if Assad is gone, any Qatar land pipeline must run through Saudi Arabia, whom has, and could still, thwart Qatar’s pipeline ambitions. Yet Qatar is not apparently trying to topple the Saudis.

Assad also offered European access for a pipeline originating in Iraq and Iran.  But that pipeline would also have harmed the Russians’ semi-monopoly on gas sales to Europe, same as the Qatar pipeline.  Yet Russia still backs Assad, indicating the Iran/Iraq pipeline is apparently a minor concern to the Russians, despite its threat to Russia’s European gas markets.

The potential European customers of the "Syrian-blocked" Qatar gas pipeline are not crying for war on Syria either, even though they would benefit, in theory, if Assad fell and the pipeline went through.

The Pipelineistan theory also inadequately explains potential US involvement in the Syrian war.  Simply put, we are competing with Qatar to sell natural gas around the world. Why should we help them?

The US is on the verge of exporting massive amounts of our own LNG to Europe, at 300% profit margins.  Our own oil and gas interests would profit if Assad stays in power, and Syria continues to block the Qatar-Syria gas pipeline, which would compete with our own efforts to sell gas to Europe.

So it makes little financial sense for Big Oil/Gas to push us to intervene in Syria, with the hidden agenda of promoting the Qatar pipeline.  That would actually help their competition.

Qatar may be financing the Syrian rebels for many reasons, but Pipelineistan is probably a minor factor in their warmongering.

KEY FIGURES
Qatar shipped about 60 billion cubic feet of LNG to Europe in 2009, about 30% of their production, according to Wiki.  It costs about $2.15 per million cubic feet to freeze, ship, and thaw natural gas from LNG.  A million cubic feet of gas costs about $750 to produce on the Arabian Peninsula, and sells for about $11,000 in Europe.
SOURCE MATERIALS
Three Articles about the Syria-Qatar pipeline issues http://www.aljazeera.com/...

http://www.theguardian.com/...

http://www.thenational.ae/...

Information about Qatar's gas business
http://www.qatargas.com/...
Background on LNG, with some prices
http://online.wsj.com/...
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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (29+ / 0-)

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 03:06:27 PM PDT

  •  The pipeline will not be mocked! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093, erratic, Zornorph, northsylvania

    Do not question the pipeline!

    ...seriously though, the "pipeline" thing has only ever been an excuse for certain people to shoehorn Syria into their "theory" that the US only goes to war for oil and gas, despite the fact that Syria doesn't have much of either. It's probably best to just ignore them.

    •  the Syrian situation is too complex (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      David54, phenry, erratic, northsylvania

      already, without mixing in more assertions.  At least a dozen current articles boldly blame The Pipeline for the potential US involvement.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 03:28:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That gas pipeline is why we invaded (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        phenry, 6412093

        Afghanistan too....because they wouldn't play ball and let us build it through their country to get to the gas in some mountain range.

        That was in the late 1990's.

        Listening to the NRA on school safety is like listening to the tobacco companies on cigarette safety. (h/t nightsweat)

        by PsychoSavannah on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 04:12:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, PsychoSavannah, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          northsylvania

          Bin Laden hiding there was also a factor.

          “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

          by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 05:39:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  My smiley faces are on strike.... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            6412093

            Part of the reason for the Bush cabal planning and executing the 9/11 attacks, as per the instructions in the PNAC papers that were right on the internet, was because Unocal could not get Afghanistan to allow a pipeline to be built through the country to bring newly-discovered cheap LNG from Turkmenistan to the Arabian Sea for easy export.  So, the CIA recruited bin Laden, who was on our payroll for a decade at that point, his parents having given him to us because the Saudi princes and the Bushes were close friends.  So, bin Laden started working for us with the mujadiheen to keep the Russians from taking over and building their own pipeline.  See, the USA was doing Unocal's work for them because they are all in bed together.

            That is how everything was explained to me after the attacks on 9/11.   Right after those attacks there were folks who knew why it happened, who would benefit, and who was "in on it".

            Wish I still had access to that discussion board from all those years ago.

            So, imagine my surprise when the same pipeline pops up 11 years later as the reason for yet another invasion....

            :-)

            Listening to the NRA on school safety is like listening to the tobacco companies on cigarette safety. (h/t nightsweat)

            by PsychoSavannah on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 06:28:47 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, its a different pipeline this time around (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PsychoSavannah, Pariah Dog

              The pipeline you discuss would have run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, to an open water port, probably in Pakistan.  It's still a live proposition.

              The different pipeline(s) that some implicate in the Syrian war would have run from Qatar to Syria, and on to Europe, or from Iran to Syria to Europe (through Turkey).

              "Pipelineistan" has become a catch phrase for several potential pipeline routes in the middle and near east, with financial implications for the affected states, who may form "energy alliances."

              These days, Turkmenistan (and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) have a new natural gas pipeline to China, rather than through Afghanistan and on to open waters.

              This is supposedly a good thing, since it isn't a Russian pipeline.  However Gazprom, the Russian gas company, build part of it.

              “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

              by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 07:55:49 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Sea, actually. The Caspian Basin. (0+ / 0-)

          All bullshit of course.

          Please pretend that I don't give a shit.

          by Jim Riggs on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 04:38:27 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  What about routing the pipeline (0+ / 0-)

        through Iraq (specifically Kurdistan) instead, if Syria is the problem? It's politically unstable, but no more so than Syria. Are there other problems? Earthquakes?

        It would seem that with the Iraq-Kurdistan-Turkey route available, there is even less incentive to go to war to ram a pipeline through Syria.

  •  Glad to see a well thought out argument against (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093, InAntalya, erratic, BusyinCA

    the pipeline argument.  Though I haven't made up my own mind on it's relevance regarding Qatar's involvement.

    What's your theory as to why Qatar backs the "rebels"?

    •  B/c rebels are Sunni and Qatar has money? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      6412093, katiec
    •  I've seen published accounts that Qatar (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      erratic

      is, in fact, shoveling billions into the war against Assad, along with the Saudis.

      I can only guess its part of the Shia-Sunni split, although that also seems like a pretty poor basis for a bloody war, IMHO.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 03:32:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Because they could. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      katiec, erratic, 6412093, ScienceMom

      Because Qatari rulers have more money than any person should ever have.

      Because they were bored.

      But mostly because they (along with a few others) let themselves be convinced that it would all be over in a couple of months.

      And later because it gave them a chance to f%&* with the Saudi ruling family.

      Lamb chop, we can quibble what to call it, but I think we can both agree it's creepy.

      by InAntalya on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 04:31:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am afraid you could be right (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ScienceMom

        InAntalya, and those are all sorry reasons for the merciless slaughter of thousands.

        “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

        by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 05:41:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary, 6412093 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    6412093

    Thanks for sharing your expertise, I really appreciated the analysis. Carry on!

    •  Thanks, erratic (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      erratic

      I haven't been commenting in the Syria diaries, but I wanted to contribute a little, about a factor I actually knew something about.

      “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

      by 6412093 on Fri Sep 06, 2013 at 05:42:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had not heard the pipelineistan CT (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for presenting it, and thanks for your analysis and commentary.

  •  Now here's a far more believable reason (0+ / 0-)

    than any other I've heard!

    Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

    by Pariah Dog on Sat Sep 07, 2013 at 06:17:19 AM PDT

  •  I wonder what would happen if... (0+ / 0-)

    someone shot a tanker full on LNG.

    Please pretend that I don't give a shit.

    by Jim Riggs on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 04:32:29 PM PDT

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