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Alex Wright

Russian company begins oil prospecting off Syrian coast

The Islamic state group controls majority of Syria's oil resources [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 September, 2015

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Russian state-controlled energy group SoyuzNefteGaz has started operations off the Syrian coast amid a rapid military build-up by Moscow in the war-torn country.
Russian oil and gas company SoyuzNefteGaz has begun oil prospecting operations in Latakia on the western coast of Syria, a source has told al-Araby al-Jadeed’s Arabic service.

The unnamed source said prospecting for oil has begun in Latakia’s Qenenas district, after the Syrian Minister of Petroleum Suleiman al-Abbas recently met with his Russian counterpart in Damascus.

"This will have a major role in future investment opportunities in land and offshore oil prospecting and drilling as well as setting up joint ventures in oil and gas services," the source reported the minister as saying in the hushed meeting.

The source added that Abbas had said the start of oil drilling continued the "fruitful cooperation" between Russia and Syria and that it "served the best interests" of both countries.

In 2013, Syria announced it had signed an agreement with SoyuzNefteGaz to jointly prospect for oil off Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

"During the first stage, which envisages research and initial prospecting, the contractor [SoyuzNefteGaz] is expected to invest $15mn," a spokeswoman for the Syrian natural resources ministry said at the time.

"Then, during test drilling, the contractor will further invest $75mn to make at least one test well," she added.

SoyuzNefteGaz has begun prospecting for oil in sector two of Syrian territorial waters, between the cities of Tartous and Baniyas, according to the source.

In 2010, the US Geological Survey estimated that the Eastern Mediterranean’s Levant Basin - which is surrounded by Israel, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Cyprus - may hold up to 3,450 billion cubic metres of natural gas and 1.7 billion barrels of oil, putting it on par- at least when it comes to natural gas resources - with onshore lands and state waters off the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Earlier this month, Italian energy giant Eni reported the discovery of a supergiant gas field off the Egyptian coast that could hold a potential of 850 billion cubic metres of natural gas.

Russia has recently been covertly deploying troops, warplanes, artillery units and tanks to Syria.

Many observers suspect the assets will be used to further prop up President Bashar al-Assad, despite claims they will be used to tackle Islamic state group extremists.

Moscow has been an unwavering supporter of the Assad regime during a war that has seen more than 240,000 killed since March 2011.
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