(Reuters) - The European Union, the biggest buyer of Syrian crude oil, banned imports of the country’s oil on Saturday to put economic pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, while allowing fuel sales to Syria to continue.
The United States — which banned oil trade with Syria in August — the EU and other Western powers want Assad to end his violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that the United Nations says has killed 2,000 civilians.
The impact of any disruption of Syrian oil exports on global supplies would be small compared with the loss of more than 1.3 million bpd of oil and 956 million cubic feet (mmcf) a day of gas exported by Libya until early 2011.
Syria’s net oil exports were just 109,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2010, 99 percent of which was sent to Europe, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The EU ban on the “purchase, import and transport of oil and other petroleum products from Syria,” and on financial or insurance services provided for such transactions, could force Syria to look for new buyers or reduce its oil production.
But sales of oil products from Europe to Syria are still allowed because Brussels fears that cutting the supply of vehicle and power generation fuels would make life worse for the Syrian people, a spokeswoman for the EU said.
European oil traders were supplying fuel to Damascus before the EU Syrian oil import ban announced on Sep. 2 and several international oil companies have significant energy interests in the country.
Following are some key facts about Syria’s oil and gas industry and its key customers.
* Syria is a small oil producer, accounting for just 0.5 percent of global production in 2010, according the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
* Syria’s oil production declined from 581,000 bpd in 2001 to 375,000 in 2009, according to BP data, but recovered to 385,000 bpd in 2010 after new fields started up.
* The latest monthly report from the International Energy Agency put Syrian oil production at 370,000 bpd in July 2011, while monthly Syrian crude loading programmes pegged exports at 150,000 bpd.
* Syria’s mostly sour Souedie crude is sold by state marketing firm Sytrol. Germany and Italy each bought nearly a third of Syria’s exported crude in 2010, while France, the Netherlands, Austria, Spain and Turkey shared the rest, according to the EIA.
* Syria has 2.5 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, just 0.2 percent of the world total and comparable with the Britain’s 2.8 billion barrels.
* The Al-Furat Petroleum Company — a joint venture between state-run Syrian Petroleum Co. (SPC), Shell and CNPC — is the main producer consortium operating in the country.
Because SPC is the operator of AFPC, any withdrawal by the foreign partners is unlikely to cut production, at least in the short term, industry sources say.
* Syria’s two key production streams are the sour and heavy Souedie crude, which yields lower quality oil products, and the sweet and lighter Syrian Light grade.
* More than half of Syria’s oil output is processed at the state-run Baniyas (133,000 bpd) and Homs (107,000 bpd) refineries. But the country has to import gas oil and diesel to meet demand — much of it for oil-fired power generation.
* Most of Syria’s known oil reserves are in the east of the country near the border with Iraq, with some smaller fields in the centre of the country.
* Syria has three Mediterranean oil export/import terminals — Baniyas, Tartous, and the smaller port of Latakia.
* After a failed 2007 auction, the government re-launched a tender in late March 2011 for international oil companies to bid for offshore oil exploration and production sharing contracts in the Mediterranean Sea.
* At the end of June 2011, it invited bidders to develop oil shale prospects in a tender which closes on November 30, 2011.
* Proved reserves of natural gas stood at 0.3 billion cubic metres (bcm), or 9.1 trillion cubic feet, at the end of 2010 —equal to 0.1 percent of the global total.
* Natural gas production rose to 7.8 bcm in 2010, up 37 percent from 5.7 bcm produced in 2009. BP estimates Syria produced around 800 million cubic feet/day in 2010, up from an average of 500 mmcf/day in 2008 and 2009, after new fields started up.
* The start up of the South Central Area gas — built by Russia’s Stroytransgaz — at the end of 2009 boosted Syria’s natural gas production by about 40 percent, with several other projects coming onstream last year.
* Around a third of the gas produced in 2008 was reinjected into oilfields, with the rest burnt by power plants and other domestic users.
* About half of the country’s electricity has been made by burning refined oil, much of which has to be imported, according to the U.S. EIA.
* A blockade on oil trade could cause power cuts. But, with gas output rising rapidly, Syria is becoming less reliant on oil and aims to use only gas in power plants by 2014.
* Syria has imported gas from Egypt through the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP) since 2008, with imports of 0.69 bcm in 2010. The pipeline was rocked by a series of explosions in 2011.
* Upstream oil production is controlled by the state-run Syrian Petroleum Company (SPC), which is responsible for about half of existing production in the country and takes 50 percent stakes in new development projects with foreign partners.
* Foreign companies operating in the energy sector include Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), Canada’s Suncor Energy, Britain’s Petrofac and Gulfsands Petroleum, along with Russian oil company Tatneft and engineering firm Stroytransgaz.
* Asian national oil companies, led by China’s Sinochem, and smaller independents like Gulfsands have been most active in recent exploration tenders.
* China’s CNPC and Sinopec are helping to revive output under rehabilitation contracts for small mature fields, while Shell and Total have been awarded contracts to probe deeper into existing fields.
* Foreign firms help Syria produce light crude and gas while state run firm Sytrol exclusively produces Souedie and markets it outside Syria.
* Sytrol typically issues monthly tenders to sell crude oil. Firms such as Arcadia and Shell often win tenders. Syria also tenders to import refined oil products.
Sources: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Syrian government and company websites, Reuters news.
Reporting by Daniel Fineren, Ikuko Kurahone, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Barbara Lewis, editing by Anthony Barker