Strategies behind the Iran sanctions — Arab News' weekly energy recap

Crude oil prices continued their downward momentum with Brent crude falling to nearly a three-month-low at $72.83 per barrel. (AFP)
Updated 03 November 2018
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Strategies behind the Iran sanctions — Arab News' weekly energy recap

RIYADH: Crude oil prices continued their downward momentum with Brent crude falling to nearly a three-month-low at $72.83 per barrel.
WTI also fell to $63.14 per barrel. The commitment of Saudi Arabia and Russia to offset any shortages after the imposition of sanctions on Iran have eased oil prices. Noticeably, Saudi Arabia increased its production to 10.7 million barrels per day (bpd) in October and is capable of increasing output further if needed. Russia produced at a post-Soviet-era peak of 11.36 million bpd in September. This news has comforted the market with the knowledge that any supply shortages from Iran will be effectively met.
Tomorrow, the US economic sanctions on Iran will come into force. These sanctions were supposed to take Iranian oil exports to zero amid the “highest level of economic sanctions” imposed. However, the US granted waivers to Iran’s top buyers, so that Iran will still be able to legally export at least one million bpd.
Even prior to the sanctions, Iran’s crude oil exports went down from 2.2 million bpd to 1.5 million bpd, as most of Iran’s customers have found other suppliers. Despite the US waivers, many nations will continue to look for other options to purchase the crude oil they need, as the US waivers could be withdrawn with little warning.
It is not clear yet if Iranian condensate will be included in this latest round of sanctions. It was not included during the 2012 sanctions because the Obama administration did not consider condensates to be crude oil. Much of Iranian condensate is from natural gas processing plants. There has been no Trump administration policy statement on whether Iranian condensates will be treated the same way as crude oil.
Any crude oil Iran can sell will be some relief for the country as it is running out of storage. Early last month, Iran was forced to move two million barrels of crude into a bonded storage tank at the port of Dalian in northeast China. It used a similar tactic during previous US sanctions. Such a ploy is necessary so that Iran can maintain enough storage for condensate from its natural gas fields. Otherwise, they would be forced to shutter natural gas production. That would cause severe unrest among its population since natural gas is used for about 70 percent of Iranian domestic energy consumption, including home heating.
China is the largest importer of Iranian crude. China used to be the largest importer of US shale oil until the outbreak of the US-China trade dispute. Now is the time for China to play its cards, inviting the US to de-escalate the trade dispute if China agrees to buy US crude in place of Iranian barrels. Considering that China’s trade surplus with the US has hit record highs, this could be a win-win situation. The only question is whether the US oil export infrastructure can keep up with the volumes needed. US oil exports have faced some challenges lately, dropping to 1.5 million bpd from a peak of two million bpd.
Another issue, which is also uncertain in regards to the US sanctions, is the small amount of trade of Iranian crude oil which is done through small banks outside the US financial system. Those banks helped Iran to export oil during 2012 sanctions. This is despite the fact that Iranian oil tankers will face huge challenges in securing insurance that is mandated by the refineries’ discharging ports.
Finally, it is unknown if the sanctions will include Iran’s “swap” arrangements with neighboring countries. Iran does oil-gas swaps with Caspian Sea nations. It also does oil swap deals with these countries, so that Tehran can supply northern areas with oil processed at the Tehran, Tabriz, and Arak refineries without having to transport it all the way from wells in the south. In another swap deal, Iraq sends oil from its northern Kirkuk fields to Iran by road, to be refined in Iran.
In return, Iran sends the same amount of crude to Iraq’s southern ports for exports. These swaps are considered an outlet for Iranian crude oil and US sanctions on them could cause considerable disruption.


American Airlines ‘unaware’ of some Boeing 737 MAX functions until last week

Updated 15 November 2018
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American Airlines ‘unaware’ of some Boeing 737 MAX functions until last week

  • The FAA and Boeing are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets
  • ‘Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing’

WASHINGTON: American Airlines Group Inc. said on Wednesday it was “unaware” of some functions of an anti-stall system on Boeing Co’s 737 MAX until last week.
Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued guidance on the system last week after a Lion Air jet crashed in Indonesia on Oct. 29, killing all 189 people on board.
The FAA warned airlines last week that erroneous inputs from the system’s sensors could lead the jet to automatically pitch its nose down even when autopilot is turned off, making it difficult for pilots to control.
The system was designed to prevent the jet from stalling, according to information provided by Boeing to airlines.
“We value our partnership with Boeing, but were unaware of some of the functionality of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) installed on the MAX 8,” an American Airlines spokesman said.
“We must ensure that our pilots are fully trained on procedures and understand key systems on the aircraft they fly.”
Indonesian investigators said on Monday the situation the crew of a doomed Lion Air jet was believed to have faced was not contained in the aircraft’s flight manual. US pilot unions were also not aware of potential risks, pilot unions said.
The FAA and Boeing are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets in the wake of the Lion Air crash, the regulator said on Tuesday.
The American Airlines spokesman said his airline was continuing to work with Boeing and the FAA and would keep pilots informed of any updates.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the manufacturer could not discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation but it had provided two updates for operators around the world that re-emphasize existing procedures to deal with situations relating to MCAS.
“We are confident in the safety of the 737 MAX,” she said. “Safety remains our top priority and is a core value for everyone at Boeing.”