Jordan scrambles to secure energy resources

April 11, 2013 at 3:48 PM
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AMMAN, Jordan, April 11 (UPI) -- Jordan wants to build an $18 billion oil pipeline from southern Iraq to beat the kingdom's crippling energy shortage, but it's also looking to built two nuclear reactors, a step the United States doesn't want its Arab ally to take.

The dilemma illustrates the immense problems Jordan faces over energy, that have major political and security ramifications for a country that pretty much exists only on handouts from the United States, Europe and the Persian Gulf monarchies.

Resource-poor Jordan has to import almost all of its oil and gas needs and its energy bill has spiraled up to $4 billion this year.

"Energy is the Achilles heel of the Jordanian economy, it's a huge vulnerability for Jordan," the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund, Nemat Shafik, declared while visiting Amman March 6.

King Abdullah II is facing growing unrest in his largely desert state, and the energy problem, while having to slash spending, is increasingly a critical factor in avoiding a direct challenge to the Hashemite throne.

The widening unrest is a consequence of democratic reforms he's promised but until a few weeks ago never delivered, and only then sparingly, since he succeeded his late father, King Hussein, in 1999.

That's been fueled more recently by a flood of refugees from neighboring Syria, adding huge strains on an already overstretched economy, and the fear the war in Syria will spill over into Jordan and threaten the monarchy.

Abdullah has had to introduce harsh budgetary measures in recent months, such as cutting food and fuel subsidies, to meet the terms of a $2 billion IMF loan.

Now he faces the prospect of more unrest later this month when he must raise electricity tariffs, again, to guarantee the release of the next loan tranche of nearly $500 million from the IMF.

Unlike its gulf neighbors, Jordan has few domestic energy reserves, although an estimated 100 billion barrels of shale oil deposits offer a prospect for future energy supply if commercial and technical problems can be overcome.

Energy Minister Alaa Batayneh said in March Jordan hopes to develop oil and gas projects that will make it energy self-sufficient by 2020.

"Jordan's literally unexplored in a way that gives us a lot of hope," Batayneh explained. "We have a lot of indigenous national resources that we're trying to move."

Such boundless optimism appears to rest on developing Jordan's shale oil deposits, with help from Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum.

In recent weeks, Abdullah and his cabinet, which he reshuffles every few months in his struggle to find a survival formula, has been hustling deals in a frantic push to end Jordan's energy nightmare.

The Iraq pipeline plan is a key element, if fraught with political risk given the growing fragility of the Baghdad government and concerns that the Syrian war will infect Iraq, vulnerable since the U.S. military withdrawal two years ago.

Iraq and Jordan may hold a partial initial public offering listing 25 percent of the $18 billion pipeline to run from Basra, Iraq's oil export terminal on the Persian Gulf, to Jordan's only port, Aqaba on the Red Sea, the Jordan Times reported March 4.

The plan is to pump 1 million barrels of oil and around 258 million cubic feet of gas a day. The pipeline's scheduled to be operational by 2017.

Since Jordan requires some 150,000 barrels of oil and 100 million cubic feet of gas per day to get by, the excess would be exported through Aqaba.

In March, Jordan approved a $1.93 billion deal with the Saudi Arabian Oil Shale Co. to produce and 2,650 barrels per day, rising to 30,000 bpd within 4-8 years

It also signed a deal with the Korea Global Energy Corp. for oil exploration in 2,630 square miles of the Dead Sea region.

A Jordanian hook-up with Israel's newfound gas fields is a non-starter. King Hussein's 1994 peace treaty with Israel is widely reviled and Abdullah won't risk a backlash.

So amid all this hydrocarbon-oriented activity, Jordan still seems set on acquiring two 1,000-megawatt nuclear plants costing around $15 billion, despite U.S. concerns.

Amman is expected to decide this month between competing Russian and French-Japanese consortiums, although the financing is still unclear.

"We're living now in an energy crisis, a very serious crisis," said Khaled Toukan, chairman of Jordan's Atomic Energy Commission.

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