The unfortunate statistics of Mideast hydrocarbon pipelines

The Middle East is highly associated with the oil & gas resources and thus hydrocarbon pipelines are an integrative part of the landscape. Practically every country in the Middle East has some kind of pipeline infrastructure connecting it with another and multiple more such projects are planned at various levels, beginning with various hypothetical pipelines in the Gulf, continuing with export pipelines from Cypriot Aphrodite and Israeli Leviathan to Egypt or elsewhere and grandiose projects such as the trans-continental Nabucco. However, it must be mentioned that most of such projects are not likely to realize in the coming future and ironically many past pipeline projects have proven that the promises of tremendous profits from pipelines often fail to stand to the geopolitical circumstances of the region and the general finance obstacles - whether local or global.

From the very beginning, the pipeline business has been a gamble - the Mosul-Haifa oil pipeline, constructed by the British in 1935 to transport oil from British-oriented Kingdom of Iraq to British Mandate Palestine-EY via British autonomy of Transjordanian Emirate, had operated for just 13 years. Though in the beginning the whole pipeline seemed to operate in some kind of seemingly British domain, the post-World War II developments made all those three countries independent and increasingly hostile to each other. The Trans-Arabian oil pipeline had operated for 17 years, failing to continue due to financial disputes and only the Kirkuk-Banias pipeline would successfully surpass half a century of operation, though still terminating due to the 2003 Gulf War.

Table 1. List of notable international hydrocarbon pipelines in the Middle East and their approximate operation statistics. Excluding pipelines which operate partially, the median period of operation for disbanded pipelines is 13 years, while for the operating pipelines the median operation lifetime is 10 years.

The conclusion from statistical analysis of the above list is that the 7 hydrocarbon pipelines which had already terminated operation were in use for a median period of 13 years. Looking at the 10 currently operating international pipelines (excluding 3 partially operating), the median operation lifetime is about 10 years, which is of course not a representing number of total lifetime, which is expected to be somewhat longer. While one can certainly assert that those statistics are somewhat non-representing, since most pipelines in the region have been inaugurated over the past two decades, there are still concerns arising from this listing. 

Considering the current turmoil in the Mideast, there is absolutely no insurance for pipeline operational stability. Indeed there have been multiple disruptions in the Arab Gas pipeline (AGP) Rehab branch from Egypt to Jordan over the past 5 years and in fact most of the branches of the Arab Gas pipeline have become defunct. Furthermore, most pipelines passing via Eastern Turkey have become targeted by insurgents during the ongoing rebellion in that part of the country, sporadically terminating the flow. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline (KCP) Mosul-Kirkuk branch was seized by Jihadists and terminating the flow, while the recently inaugurated alternative Taqtaq-Peshkhabur branch has already been attacked by Kurdish rebels in Turkey. In conclusion, numerous geopolitical factors and global financial factors may turn the still operating hydrocarbon pipelines into idle pieces of metal in the Mideast deserts.