Inside Syria

Who controls Syria’s oil?

With oil reserves divided between government and opposition, we discuss the role of natural resources in Syria’s war.

The international demand for Syrian oil was once high but the global embargo has changed all that – now one of the country’s most invaluable assets is being squandered in the name of war.

The EU's decision to trade with these rebels, these terrorists ... this is obscene. It is a violation of international law and it makes a mockery of the United Nations and this should be stopped. Quite frankly, the rebels are the ones who have been committing most of the massacres in the country.

by  Gearoid O Colmain, an independent political analyst

With all the fighting that continues daily, one thing that often goes unreported is who controls the country’s oil and gas.

Syria is a minor oil producer on the global scene. It accounts for less than one percent of the world’s output, but petroleum from the oilfields of Deir az-Zor province has been a vital export component for the country.

Syria’s oil and gas fields are concentrated mostly in the lightly populated east and northeast of the country.

A network of pipelines connects them with the main population centres to the west and any interruption to the supply means millions of people go without power. 

It once represented a billion-dollar industry that accounted for more than 25 percent of the country’s economic output.

But after more than two years of civil war, the oil and gas fields are now being fought over by the government and between rival rebel groups. Today, production has fallen by 95 percent.

The rebel al-Nusra Front is active there doing deals with local tribes and controlling as many oilfields as it can, but several remain with unclear ownership and that has allowed an illicit trade to flourish.

So chaotic is the situation in some places that the Assad government and the rebels have reportedly done deals with each other to allow both sides access to oil or gas. 

The challenge for the coalition is going to be how does it manage to persuade these private individuals or groups or those Salafists to hand over these wells. And that is what is unclear given the fact the coalition does not really have the sort of military power or influence on the ground to enforce such a decision.

by Amr al-Azm, an associate professor at Shawnee State University

The European Union import ban on Syrian oil and petroleum products was imposed in September 2011.

But in April of this year, the EU decided member states could support the Syrian opposition.

According to the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, the 27-member bloc approved three types of transactions with Syria.

They involve imports of oil and petroleum products; exports of equipment and technology for the oil and gas industry, and investments in that industry.

The Syrian government has taken aim at the EU’s decision to lift the oil embargo for the rebels’ benefit.

The foreign ministry said: “Neither the EU nor any other party has the right to take any measures that would affect the state’s sovereign rights over their national resources.

The EU countries have gone even beyond that to allow the possibility of investing these resources in favour of one group that claims to be an opposition and represent the Syrian people while it actually represents no one by its masters and their interests that are connected to foreign sides.”

How relevant is Syria’s oil in the conflict? Will oil become the fault line in the country’s civil war? 

In this edition of Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, we are joined by guests: Anas al-Abdah, a member of the political office for the Syrian National Coalition; Gearoid O Colmain, an independent political analyst; and Amr al-Azm, an associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University.

The EU decision was basically a symbolic one, it will basically enable the Syrian revolution to finance itself through the selling of oil.

– Anas al-Abdah, Syrian National Coalition