27.06.12 Caspian Focus
Iran's Caspian energy find may provoke border confrontation
Iran's recent discovery of a large oil and gas field in the Caspian Sea has
attracted some media interest, but there has been very little attention paid to
location of the claim. If the field is where Iran says it is, the scene could
set for a serious confrontation with Azerbaijan.
Iran claimed to have discovered the Sardar Jangal gasfield in December 2011, and
the Sardar Milli oilfield in the same structure in May 2012. Iranian officials
have claimed that the find is extremely significant: around 50 trillion cubic
feet of gas and 10 billion barrels. If true this would make Iran a major
energy player. There is some scepticism over the scale of the find, but it
likely that the company's North Drilling Company has indeed discovered something.
To date, Iran has not given a precise set of coordinates for the field, but
officials have said that it lies 188km north of Rousdar in Gilan province, and
northwest of the port of Neka. A rough triangulation of those coordinates
produces a location within what is usually considered to be Azerbaijan's
waters. This assessment was confirmed by a subsequent Iranian statement that
Sardar Jangal is in the Alborz block – a disputed area which Azerbaijan calls
The field therefore seems to lie in disputed waters. There are no agreed
maritime boundaries in the Caspian Sea, the product of twenty years of
how much each of the five littoral states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan,
Iran and Azerbaijan) should receive.
Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan – increasingly joined by Turkmenistan – have
agreed on a median-line division, under which each state receives a proportion
of Caspian waters based on the length of their coastline. Iran has held out for
common-use solution under which all states would receive 20%, since it would
only receive 14% under a median-line division.
In the northern Caspian Russia and Kazakhstan have cooperated on joint
development of fields, working together on an ad hoc basis. But in the southern
Iran's attempts to secure a larger share of the territorial waters, and
longstanding tensions between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, have meant that
have remained untouched.
The Iranian claim has raised a number of questions, notably: why is Iran
drilling in a disputed area? Why has Baku not responded? And does Iran have the
and the capability to develop such a complex field?
These all remain unclear but given the current tensions between Iran and
Azerbaijan and the pace of militarisation in the Caspian, the scene could be
set for a
A presentation on this subject was recently made by Caspian Focus editor Alex Jackson at the second Caspian Offshore Summit in Astana. The
presentation can be accessed here.