Aug. 2 (UPI) -- Iran is becoming less dependent on its neighbors for natural gas with the launch of a pipeline to the northern provinces, the government said.
Iranian Energy Minister Bijan Zangeneh was on hand for a ceremony for the launch of the Damghan-Neka natural gas pipeline for the customers in the isolated north of the country, the energy ministry's news website SHANA reported.
"Construction of the project began 10 years ago but gained much momentum after Turkmenistan reneged on its promise to supply gas to Iran last winter demanding extra charges for its gas to Iran," the report read. "The much-awaited gas pipeline is going to guarantee the steady supply of natural gas to the regions that experienced harsh winters in the past."
Disputes over payment issues in January prompted Turkmenistan to stop sending gas to its southern neighbor. The terrain in northern Iran makes it difficult to distribute natural gas and other power supplies. Azerbaijan sells natural gas to the northern provinces of Iran in exchange for electricity.
The pipeline runs from the Semnan province to Mazandaran province on the coast of the Caspian Sea. It's part of a broader network meant to distribute gas from the South Pars field in the Persian Gulf to the Iranian market.
For oil, the energy minister announced a deal was reached with his Iraqi counterpart, Jabbar al-Luabi, to conduct a feasibility study for a cross-border export pipeline from oil fields in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. According to Iranian broadcaster Press TV, the pipeline could offer Iraq an alternative to oil exports from the semiautonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
A referendum for Kurdish independence from Iraq is set for Sept. 25. A spokesperson for the Kurdish government, Safeen Dizayee, told a delegation in London last month the referendum would correct past mistakes from Baghdad, including budgetary issues related to oil and entitlements for some of the Kurdish fighters supporting broader counter-terrorism efforts.
Oil leaves the Kurdish region from a pipeline to a Turkish port at Ceyhan.
Iran has long-standing ambitions of tapping into the surrounding market. As one of the world's leading oil and gas producers, Tehran said it could offer the European economy an alternative to Russian supplies.