Natural resources, energy and environment
Iran has very large known reserves of both natural gas and oil. This represents almost one fifth of the known natural gas in the world and almost one tenth of the oil reserves. In addition, there are plenty of minerals in the country such as iron, coal, zinc, nickel, sulfur, chromium and copper.
Oil has been mined since the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the oil wells are in the Khuzestan province, but there are also oil fields in the Persian Gulf. The recovery was greatest in the 1970s when it reached the highest level of 6 million barrels a day.
- COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by Iran with a full list of the top products exported by the country. Includes trade value in U.S. dollars and the percentage for each product category.
The 1979 revolution, the war against Iraq in the 1980s and foreign sanctions in recent years (see Modern History and Current Policy) have contributed to oil production not reaching the same levels as before. The increasingly severe sanctions also caused Iran to lose importance as an oil exporting country. After most sanctions were lifted in 2016, Iran could gradually begin to regain its position on the world market. When the United States reintroduced all its sanctions in 2018, it led to major economic problems for Iran, despite several of the country’s major oil customers being temporarily exempted from US threats of punishment.
Production, refining, distribution and export are handled by the State National Iranian Oil Company (Nioc) and its many subsidiaries. The constitution prohibits foreign and private ownership of natural assets, but since the beginning of the 1990s, foreign oil and gas companies have been allowed to invest in the country. They were responsible for financing and technology when a new oil or gas field was exploited, and then replaced by a repurchase mechanism when Nioc started production. The foreign companies have no ownership rights in the fields and receive no share in the profits once the investment has been paid. In recent years, Western companies have been forced to submit projects because of the sanctions. China, on the other hand, chose to increase cooperation with large investments in the oil and gas fields, but China has subsequently slowed down. This was the case with the first major new contract with a Western company that was concluded in 2016, after the sanctions were lifted. French Total then signed a 20-year contract worth € 4.3 billion to develop a new offshore gas field in collaboration with an Iranian and a Chinese company. Total then became one of the companies affected by reintroduced US sanctions, and in 2019 Iran announced that China had also withdrawn.
- Abbreviationfinder: A popular acronym site in the world covering abbreviation for each country. For example, IR stands for Iran. Visit itypeusa for more information about Iran.
Extensive extraction of a variety of metals and other products is ongoing throughout Iran. The mine in Sar Cheshmeh is estimated to have the second largest copper deposits in the world. Iran also has assets of lead, uranium, gold, phosphate and bauxite.
Electricity production has increased during the 2000s, but demand is increasing faster, especially from industry. Since electricity is subsidized, it is consumed unnecessarily. Electricity zoning occurs, but virtually all residents have access to electricity. Fossil fuels – mainly natural gas but also oil and to a small extent coal – account for over 90 percent of the electricity produced. The rest comes mainly from hydropower.
The first electricity deliveries from nuclear power came in 2011, but production is still on a modest scale. In 2016 it was announced that two new nuclear reactors would be built with Russian help and be ready after ten years. Iran claims that all nuclear energy production is for civilian purposes and cooperation with Russia continues. When the US withdrew from the International Nuclear Energy Agreement with Iran, which was concluded in 2015, the civil partnerships established were allowed to continue. A cloud of concern next to big politics is that earthquakes are common in Iran. At New Year 2020, two earthquakes were reported near the nuclear power plant in Bushehr.
The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest lake. Along the beaches, seals used to be a common sight. An estimated one-tenth of the stock that existed about 100 years ago now remains. The species is considered endangered by hunting and industrial emissions, not least from oil recovery. The UN environmental program Unep has warned against large quantities of uncontaminated wastewater, but also radioactive substances from nuclear power plants. Much of the pollution reaches the lake from the Volga River in Russia, which flows into the Caspian Sea. Also, the stocks of the valuable deer, which are fished for caviar, have decreased dramatically.
Emissions of oil and chemicals have damaged marine life both in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. In cities, emissions from industries and cars create bad air. Most cars lack catalysts and use gasoline with lead. The Iranian motorist drives more than most because of the very low gasoline price. Tehran is ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities. There is also a lack of clean water. Uncleaned wastewater from industries and cities drains into the watercourses, poisoning them and posing a threat to the country’s fresh water reservoirs.
Much of Iran’s territory has been affected by land degradation due to intensive grazing, logging and desertification (see also Agriculture and Fisheries). The problem is particularly evident at Lake Urmia in the northwest, which was previously considered the world’s sixth largest saltwater lake. Through a combination of drought and dams, the lake has lost 95 percent of its water and more than two-thirds of its surface in a couple of decades. In 2014, President Rohani estimated the equivalent of five billion US dollars in ten years to try to save the lake from disappearing completely.
Two natural areas are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: the salt desert Lut and a very old forest on the Caspian Sea that has unusually large biodiversity.
FACTS – ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Energy use per person
3,034 kg of oil equivalent (2014)
Electricity consumption per person
2996 kilowatt hours, kWh (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions in total
649 481 thousand tonnes (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant
8.3 tonnes (2014)
The share of energy from renewable sources
0.9 percent (2015)
New round of EU sanctions
The EU prohibits most transactions between European and Iranian banks. Export ban to Iran is introduced for graphite, aluminum and steel.
Heavy currency depreciation
The exchange rate has been reported since the beginning of the year to have lost 80 percent of its value.
Resistance movement is freed from the stamp of terror
The United States removes the Iranian resistance movement People’s Mujahedin from its list of terrorist organizations.
Diplomatic conflict with Canada
Canada closes its embassy in Tehran and expels all Iranian diplomats from Canada. The Ottawa government describes Iran as one of the most serious threats to world peace and a state sponsor of terrorism.
Global summit in Tehran
The Alliance-free movement holds its annual meeting in Tehran. Gathering representatives of 120 countries to some extent raises Iran’s low international status.
The enrichment program greatly expanded
The IAEA reports that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges for its uranium enrichment program.
New robot is presented
Iran announces that the country has developed a new type of ballistic robot.
More expensive chicken riot
Doubling the price of chicken leads to unrest. The price increase is due to the international sanctions which made it impossible to import chicken feed.
New EU sanctions
The EU prohibits the import of Iranian crude oil and cooperation with Iranian companies in the oil industry. Exports to Iran of, among other things, technology with possible military use are limited.
Broader US sanctions
US extends sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program.
Revolution guards are arrested in Kenya
Two Iranian revolutionary guards are arrested in Kenya and accused of planning to attack Israeli, American, British and Saudi targets in the country. The men are said to admit they planned 30 blast attacks in Kenya.
Anti-Semitic statement revolts
Vice President Rahimi stirs up an anti-Semitic speech during a UN conference.
US recognizes computer attack
The United States recognizes that the country has spread virus to Iranian computers.
The President is re-elected
Ali Larijani is re-elected as President of Parliament.
The IAEA finds high-enriched uranium
The IAEA reports that 27% of uranium was found in the Fordow plant, which is interpreted as work being done on trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Large Conservative majority in Parliament
The parliamentary election ends with a second round of elections. The conservative supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei get a large majority of the seats. In principle, all reform advocates are prohibited from participating.
Data attack against central authorities
The Ministry of Petroleum and the National Oil Company are subjected to an attack by computer viruses.
Negotiations with the great powers
Iran begins negotiations on its nuclear research program with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
The first round of the parliamentary elections is conducted.
Limited death penalty
The death penalty is abolished for minors.
New murder of nuclear scientist
A senior employee at the Natanz nuclear plant is shot dead in Tehran. Israel is suspected of being responsible.
Death sentence for spy
An American citizen of Iranian birth is sentenced to death for espionage.