Baker Institute examines alternatives to Strait of Hormuz

Improvements to the pipelines crossing the Arabian Peninsula would allow more of the oil produced in the Persian Gulf to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, according to a paper from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The paper, “Revisiting Alternatives to the Strait of Hormuz,” focused on introducing drag-reducing agents (DRA) to two existing pipelines between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea (crossing Saudi Arabia) in an effort to mitigate the displacement caused by ongoing Iranian threats to close the strait.

Brito said a relatively low investment of this sort would allow shipment of as much as 11-million b/d of Middle East crude oil through the Red Sea. An injection of about 30 ppm DRA into a crude line would reduce the friction factor by roughly 35%, according to Brito, with a 70 ppm injection boosting this to about 50%. He described the effect as equivalent to that of doubling the available horsepower, but noted that DRAs degrade during passage through pump stations and therefore would need to be injected after each.

The author cited a study he conducted with the Center for Naval Analysis in 2000 that detailed a variety of options for augmenting current Saudi pipeline capacity at costs of $115-598 million to yield additional capacity of 6.8-11 million b/d. He cautioned that costs might have increased since then, but also noted the improvements in DRA over the past 12 years.

The two pipelines addressed in the study were the 52-in. and 48-in. OD East-West Pipeline (Petroline) running across Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea port of Yanbu at a designed capacity of 5.1 million b/d and the 48-in. OD, 1.65-million b/d Iraqi-Saudi Arabia (IPSA) pipeline from the Iraqi border to the port of al-Mu’ajjiz on the Saudi Red Sea coast. The latter has been out of commission since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Brito described the lead time for the pumps, impellers, and turbines needed to make suitable modifications to these lines as 18 months, plus installation. He also noted that IPSA would require 2-3 months of maintenance before returning to service.

The paper concluded threats posed to the Strait of Hormuz are significant enough to warrant revisiting existing studies and investigating the feasibility of augmenting the trans-Arabian pipelines.

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