Is Jordan rich in natural resources?

If Jordan were to reach maximum oil production, it could be enjoying up to 1 million barrels a day, claims geologist Zuhair Sadiq. (Photo: Pixabay)
If Jordan were to reach maximum oil production, it could be enjoying up to 1 million barrels a day, claims geologist Zuhair Sadiq. (Photo: Pixabay)
AMMAN — Jordan, compared with its oil-rich neighbor Saudi Arabia, is typically associated with a scarcity of natural resources. But petroleum geologist and drilling expert Zuhair Sadiq begs to differ. اضافة اعلان

In an interview with Jordan News, Sadiq said that the Kingdom is in fact “rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, oil shale, and different types of minerals.” According to the geologist, Jordan has enough natural resources to “cover local demand, export, cover government debt, and increase employment.” If the Kingdom were to reach maximum oil production, it could be enjoying “up to 1 million barrels a day,” he said.

However, Sadiq’s position is not uncontroversial. In a recent interview with Jordan News, economist and energy-focused writer Lahab Atallah denounced Sadiq’s claim that Jordan is a mass oil producer in the making. “It is impossible that Jordan can produce nearly as many barrels a day as Qatar (the world’s 14th biggest oil exporter),” he said. “Jordan is simply not an oil-rich country.”

Jordan News looked into some of Jordan’s locations where oil has been identified or speculated.

Golan Heights
In 2015, Afek Oil & Gas, a subsidiary of American company Genie Energy, discovered oil reserves in the Golan Heights. The rocky layer in which the reservoir was discovered measures 350m in thickness. According to Sadiq, this is vastly thicker than average rock strata of 20-30 meters, meaning it is “up to 10 times thicker than those found in Saudi Arabia,” the world’s second biggest oil exporter. This, in Sadiq’s view, is a major indication of substantial oil reserves in one of Jordan’s eight designated oil exploration areas: the Northern Heights, which lies just south of the Golan Heights, mostly within the Kingdom’s Irbid governorate.

The Dead Sea
There are signs of oil in another oil exploration area: the Dead Sea. According to Sadiq, a total organic carbon (TOC) level of 0.5 percent to 5 percent is enough to produce oil in commercial quantities. “In the Dead Sea, strata layers consist of 10 percent TOC,” he said. This reflects the potential that many under-researched exploration locations hold in terms of productive capacity, or Jordan’s maximum ability to produce oil.

Hamzeh Reservoir
Earlier this week, after the discovery of reasonable oil quantities, the Prime Ministry of Jordan announced plans to ramp up oil production wells from 5 to 2000 barrels of crude oil per day in the Kingdom’s Hamzeh Reservoir. According to Sadiq, the reservoir consists of 17 wells. Sadiq referred to this newfound discovery as proof of the potential Jordan holds on both “a regional and global” scale when it comes to oil production. This increase in productivity means 52 thousand more barrels may be sent to the National Oil Refinery and 1.5 percent of national demand may be met.

Sadiq accredited this discovery to the arrival of Minister Hala Zawati, who “played a key role” in amplifying oil productivity through her “belief in Hamzeh Reservoir’s research-backed potential.” Atallah supported Sadiq’s accreditation of Minister Zawati, referring to her work at the Ministry as “very impressive.”

The future of energy in Jordan
When it comes to oil shale reserves, Jordan takes the lead globally. The problem, however, lies in the unaffordability of oil shale extraction, according to Sadiq. It would cost “anywhere from 30 to 40 million US Dollars,” he says. According to Lahab Atallah, oil shale extraction is “uneconomical,” meaning extraction costs may outweigh profitability, making its subsistence underground the more cost-effective choice in the eyes of the debt-enduring Jordanian government.

Atallah did, however, voice his optimism about Jordan’s involvement in renewable energy in the form of wind and solar. He envisions a third of energy consumed in Jordan being from renewable sources.

When it comes to other materials in Jordan, such as crude oil and gas, questions remain unanswered. Just 3km south of the Jordanian border, an Aramco site holds 200 million cubic feet of gas. “It’s unlikely that such reserves cease to exist at the border,” according to Sadiq. “They likely extend to the Jordanian side,” he said.

Sadiq also commented on shell corporations’ interest in Jordan. While shell corporations, or corporations without active business operations, aren’t necessarily illegal, they are often used illegitimately, particularly to disguise ownership from law enforcement. For example, Korea Global Energy, a shell company registered in the renowned shell-hosting British Virgin Islands, was interested in digging in Jordan, according to Sadiq.

Similarly, Canadian shell company Ammonite, which “doesn’t even have an office in Amman” and has recently shut down, made little progress in easing oil shale extraction despite its pledge to do so, according to Sadiq.

The inefficient interest in Jordanian natural resource reserves is nothing specific to shell companies, however.

British Petroleum failed to capitalize on the potential of gas extraction at the Al-Reeshah gas exploration site, situated in eastern Jordan, during its stay in the country from 2009 to 2014, said Sadiq. Despite their humble machinery and limited experience,” local efforts that interjected in light of BP’s exit managed to extract 20 million cubic feet of gas — the same area BP claimed lacks sufficient quantities of gas. This raises questions about BP’s ability — or willingness — to extract gas during its stay in the Al-Reeshah exploration zone. BP’s failure in extracting gas is especially peculiar when considering that shortly after its exit, Jordan signed a deal to buy gas from Israel on the basis that Al-Reeshah lacks gas reserves.

The Irish company Petroleum Resources conducted a study in Jordan prior to its bankruptcy-induced exit, and it estimates the presence of 0.9 to 6.5 billion barrels of oil in the East Safawi exploration site, further solidifying Sadiq’s view that, should it exist, the abundance of oil, gas, and oil shale has the potential to oil the wheels of Jordan’s stagnating economy.

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