When the Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline was first brought online in 1952, it marked a significant moment in the development of Iraq’s petroleum industry. Over the next 59 years, the pipeline would be shut down over a tariff dispute, damaged in warfare, be tendered for repair and have the repair work postponed indefinitely. Currently the Iraqi Government is considering constructing two new pipelines from Kirkuk to Banias, but has not given up on resurrecting the original pipeline.
In the 1930s, Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) commenced the development of a pipeline project to export crude oil to international markets via the Mediterranean Sea. This project was the pre-cursor to the Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline.
Construction on the 12 inch diameter 1,850 km Mediterranean pipeline commenced in 1932 and was completed in 1934. The pipeline exported 28 MMbbl/a of crude oil from the Kirkuk oil fields, in northeastern Iraq, through a single line to Haditha where it divided into two lines to deliver oil to Tripoli, Lebanon, and Haifa.
In 1950 IPC contracted Bechtel to construct the 30-32 inch diameter Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline, which would transport 98 MMbbl/a line from Kirkuk to Banias in Syria.
Bristish, American, Syrian, and Iraqi workers laid the pipeline using the latest machinery of the time, much of which was built especially for the project.
Construction was completed in early 1952 and was commissioned throughout the year. Iraq’s King Feisal declared the pipeline officially open at a ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries.
The pipeline raised the capacity of Iraq’s export pipeline system to 1.2 Bbbl/a.
In 1956, the pipeline was badly damaged by the Syrian army in response to the Anglo-French seizure of the Suez Canal zone, but it was eventually repaired.
Tariff disputes close pipeline
In 1972 Iraq nationalised the IPC prompting the Syrian Government to nationalise IPC’s assets in Syria, including the Syrian section of the Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline.
Tariff negotiations commenced with Syria pushing for a doubling of transit fees. While initially Iraq was forced to agree to these conditions, the country decided to construct a new pipeline to expand its export options.
The Strategic Pipeline was constructed in 1975, which comprised two parallel 700,000 bbl/d pipelines capable of transporting crude from Kirkuk south to the Arabian Peninsula. In 1976 Iraq ceased pumping oil through the Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline. Oil flow through the pipeline resumed in February 1979 but again ceased following the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980. In March 1981 Iraq once again resumed pumping oil through the pipeline to Syria; however when Syria concluded a deal with Iran to import significant volumes of crude oil, the pipeline was shut down in 1982.
In 2003 the USA carried out airstrikes along the section of the pipeline in Iraqi territory.
In 2007, Gazprom’s subsidiary Stroytransgaz commenced discussions with the Ministry of Oil of Iraq and Iraq’s North Oil Company concerning its participation in the restoration of the Kirkuk – Banias export oil pipeline. Negotiations continued into 2008 with representatives of the two sides discussing the technical issues of the condition of the pipeline system and the terms for carrying out the restoration work. The parties reached a principal agreement about the participation of Stroytransgaz in rebuilding the Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline and signed a corresponding protocol.
In December 2009, the Iraqi Government postponed a decision on repairing the pipeline. Stroytransgaz’ CEO Alexander Ryazanov said at the time that his company had submitted a plan to fix the pipeline to the Iraqi cabinet “some time ago”, but that no decision had been made because of the “country’s political situation”.
The future of the original Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline remains unclear. The Iraqi Government has announced an agreement with Syria to construct new oil pipelines along the route, while in early 2011 the Syrian Government reported that the countries were in talks to repair the existing pipeline.
In September 2010 Syria and Iraq signed an initial agreement to construct two crude oil pipelines originating at oil fields near Kirkuk in northern Iraq and terminating at Syria’s port of Banias on the Mediterranean Sea.
Local news sources reported Iraqi Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh as saying that a larger pipeline with a capacity of 1.5 MMbbl/d of oil will be built to carry heavy crude, and a smaller pipeline with a capacity of 1.25 MMbbl/d will be constructed to transport lighter crude oil.
However in February 2011, the Syrian and Iraqi governments met to discuss re-opening the Kirkuk – Banias Pipeline. The countries agreed to send a delegation of Iraqi and Syrian technicians to check the status of the pumping stations and pipeline.