Unresolved dispute between Kuwait, Iran: Durra/Arash gas field

Unresolved dispute between Kuwait, Iran: Durra/Arash gas field

Offshore natural gas field in northern Persian Gulf called Durra by Kuwait, Iran refers to it as Arash

By Muhammed Ferid

ISTANBUL (AA) — Durra/Arash, a natural gas field in the northern Persian Gulf with an estimated 220 billion cubic meters of gas, continues to be a point of contention between Kuwait and Iran.

While Kuwait refers to the offshore natural gas field located in the neutral zone between Iran and Saudi Arabia as Durra, Iran calls it by the name Arash.

One major barrier to the dispute's resolution is the failure of the two countries to define their mutual maritime frontier, though the oversea border between Iran and Saudi Arabia were defined years ago.

Tehran claims that 40% of the field lies in Iranian territorial waters, while 60% is in the divided neutral zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabia-Kuwait side asserts that the entire gas field is situated within the neutral zone, with Iran having no rights over it.

- Reconciliation efforts

The longstanding dispute was brought back into the spotlight with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia's call for reconciliation last week and Iran's invitation to the Kuwaiti foreign minister to visit.

Kuwait announced on July 27 that it would commence operations in Durra/Arash without waiting for the maritime boundary's demarcation. Iran, for its part, did not respond to a call on July 3 by Kuwait to define the frontier.

Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji said last month that his country is willing to negotiate and collaborate on operating the gas field.

Owji said last week that Tehran remains in contact with Kuwait but vowed not to budge on Iran's rights if Kuwait declined cooperation.

Riyadh and Kuwait also issued a joint statement on Aug. 3, emphasizing that the field is solely under their joint ownership and reiterated the call for Iran to determine the maritime boundary.

As tensions rise, Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Salim Abdullah al-Jaber al-Sabah received an official invitation to visit Iran last week.

The invitation was extended during a meeting between the top Kuwaiti diplomat and Iran's ambassador to the Gulf nation. The two discussed various aspects of their countries' relations.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in March last year to develop the gas field, while Iran labeled the agreement illegal and announced it would also begin drilling activities in the region.

The dispute emerged between Kuwait and Iran in the 1960s when Kuwait granted drilling rights to Royal Dutch Shell and Iran did the same with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

It escalated due to conflicting exploration and drilling activities, focusing on the field's ownership. Although current data is lacking, studies suggest that the field contains about 220 billion cubic meters of gas, roughly four years' worth in countries like Egypt and Türkiye.

Iran, a major global oil and gas producer, has an annual output of 260 billion cubic meters. Tehran is also developing the world's largest natural gas field, the South Pars Gas Field, which it shares with Qatar.

- Saudi-Kuwait Cooperation

In December 2022, Aramco Gulf Operations, affiliated with Saudi Arabia's national oil company, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kuwait Gulf Oil Company on the field's development.

The Saudi Energy Ministry and Kuwaiti Oil Ministry reached an agreement in March 2022 for the operation of Durra/Arash, in a step based on an earlier memorandum of understanding for the gas field's development and operation.

After a five-year dispute that began in 2019, the two countries reached a deal to resume oil production in the divided area, farther from the field.

- Riyadh's stance

According to the 1922 Uqair Protocol, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait share control of a jointly administered neutral zone where the borders were delineated.

Due to the presence of rich underground resources in the divided neutral zone, an agreement was reached to share these resources equally between them.

The approximately 600,000 barrels of oil produced daily from the two oil fields in this area are distributed equally between the two countries.

Since Durra/Arash is also located in the same area, claims over the gas field directly affects Saudi energy interests.

Both Kuwait and Riyadh have repeatedly said they possess all rights over the gas field, but recently, steps have been taken towards a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear how this rapprochement will impact the dispute.

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