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India-Iran Cooperation in Natural Gas

Amit Lokhande Writes: India is going forward with an ambitious, despite disadvantages, ultra-deepwater natural gas pipeline across the Arabian Sea, from Iran to India’s west coast. It is known as the SAGE pipeline.

Amit Lokhande Writes: India and Iran share many similarities- both have civilizational history, are ambitious, multi-ethnic and most importantly a strong leaning towards strategic autonomy (Independent foreign policy).

India’s top priority in this relationship is its energy security. India’s economic growth (the only amid global slowdown)[i] has led to increasing energy consumption and can only be sustained with meeting the demands of the growing energy consumption through imports.  Internally, Coal is India’s primary source of energy, which accounts for the bulk of its power generation (53%)[ii] , but is negatively associated with greenhouse gases. Oil is inefficient source for power generation. Hydroelectric sources have potential, but have environmental factors, moreover only hydroelectric power cannot by itself meet India’s demands. Hydroelectric sources account for only 22% of power generated.[iii] We can consider renewable sources (10%)[iv] such as solar and wind, but the technology is yet to be revolutionised. Nuclear energy is a sensitive issue especially after the 2011 Fukushima Disaster. Nuclear energy accounts for a mere 3% of energy produced in India[v] .

The remaining option for energy production is ‘Natural Gas’. Gas prices are lower compared to oil. Natural Gas emits almost half the greenhouse gases as compared to coal[vi]. With the recent advancement of the technology (combined-cycle gas turbines), Natural Gas is a highly efficient source. Thus this source is the fastest growing source of energy, especially in developing countries. The major, probably the only, disadvantage of natural gas is the transportation cost, especially in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). So proximity to the source is vital for the consumer. India is geographically close to one of the largest source of natural gas- Iran and Qatar (Russia has largest proven reserves). India has an arrangement with Qatar, but this can be imported only in the LNG form, which is expensive, as a deep-sea pipeline across the Arabian Sea is not an encouraging investment. Moreover, the supply from Qatar cannot be increased due to moratorium. This moratorium was due to the concerns shown by some officials that the natural gas reserves were being developed too quickly, which in future may reduce the pressure in the field’s reservoirs and possibly damage its long-term production potential. There is a possibility of lifting of this moratorium[vii], but we are not sure.

This then leave us with Iran as a major natural gas supplier to India. The overland Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline was planned to meet the rise in energy demand and also to stabilise the region (as this would make India and Pakistan interdependent). The pipeline was also dubbed as ‘peace pipeline’. The project is stalled as of now because of security concerns for the pipeline.

With rapid advances with undersea technology and the Iran Nuclear Deal with P5+1 nations, India is going forward with an ambitious, despite disadvantages, ultra-deepwater natural gas pipeline across the Arabian Sea, from Iran to India’s west coast. It is known as the SAGE pipeline (for South Asia Gas Enterprises Ltd, the Indian company leading the project) or the Middle East to India Deepwater Pipeline (MEIDP). The trans-Arabian pipeline would be one of the longest and deepest oil or gas pipelines ever built, running for 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) at depths of more than two miles underwater. Projected to cost $4.5 billion, the new pipeline would bring 1.1 billion standard cubic feet of gas a day to India, roughly doubling the country’s gas imports and bringing much-needed energy to the country[viii].The Iran-India pipeline, however, would face unique technical challenges. For one thing, most of the ultra-deepwater pipelines run relatively close to shore, easing the challenges of construction, repair, and resupply. The Iran-India route is hundreds of miles out at sea—and it runs across an underwater fault line associated with the Owen Fracture Zone, an active seismic area. What’s more, there are only a handful of ships and deep-sea craft capable of pulling off such a feat of engineering.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the last meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and discussed ways to deepen ties between the two countries, oil and gas imports and Indian investment in the Chabahar Port, where the SAGE pipeline would originate[ix] were some of the issues. So, to conclude, India is heading in a positive direction towards achieving its energy security.


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