Natural resources and energy
Syria’s most important natural resources are oil, natural gas and phosphate. Extraction of marble, plaster and salt also occurs. In addition, there are smaller assets of iron ore, asphalt, copper, uranium, bauxite, magnesium, gold and silver.
To the east of Palmyra (Tadmur) there are large phosphate deposits, which began to be exploited in 1972. The phosphate resources laid the foundation for a significant domestic fertilizer industry.
- COUNTRYAAH: Major exports by Syria 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 first, relatively insignificant oil discoveries were made in the 1950s, but those sources only lasted for almost 30 years. More good quality oil was found in the mid-1980s in the central part of the country. However, these reserves are also not so large and production had already begun to decline before the outbreak of war in 2011. Transit traffic of oil previously generated higher revenues than the country’s own production. However, the two oil pipelines from Iraq through Syria are old and worn. Syria, Iraq and Iran reached agreement on new oil pipelines in 2010 and 2011, but these plans are now shelved because of the war.
The oil industry has also been seriously damaged by the war, by attacks on pipelines and to some extent oil fields. At the beginning of the conflict, Syria produced over 400,000 barrels of oil a day, but the figure dropped rapidly from mid-2011 and the former oil exporter Syria was eventually forced to import oil for its own consumption. This has cost the state big money, especially as the government has been subsidizing oil products in its own market for decades. International sanctions against the regime also prevent deliveries.
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Before the war, Syria had two major oil refineries in Banyas and Homs, which have remained under government control. The problem is that the government can no longer produce enough oil and sell it to the refineries. The Homs refinery has been used very little because of the war, but the plant in the coastal town of Banyas has been in use and supplied with imported oil from Iraq and Iran. This has allowed the government to keep the wheels of the economy moving during several years of war, but it has come at a great cost to Iran, which for political reasons has provided Syria with extensive loans and assistance. Nevertheless, the oil shortage and lack of tanker traffic have caused sharply rising prices and major economic problems in government-controlled areas, although the situation is even worse in opposition-controlled parts of the country.
As of 2012, the most important Syrian oil fields came under the control of various rebel organizations, including Kurdish groups and the Islamic State (see Political system). Since then, the government has recaptured some fields that IS had undergone, while others – among them the country’s largest oil field in al-Omar – have been taken over by the Kurdish-led forces which had a key role in driving IS away. The Kurds demand that any agreements with the central government confirm the sharing of energy resources. There are sources claiming that during the war years the regime bought oil from both IS and the Kurdish administration that developed in the north.
In April 2013, the EU again legalized oil imports from Syrian opposition groups, but retained its sanctions on the government’s oil sales. In eastern and northern Syria, private entrepreneurs and rebel groups have created hundreds of small-scale refineries to refine the crude oil they pick up from oil fields or buy from other groups. Syrian oil also appears to be sold by smugglers in Iraq, Turkey and other countries. Many of the small refineries in eastern Syria were bombed by the United States from 2014, as a way to weaken the Islamic State’s economic base. These bombings appear to have contributed to increasing oil and fuel shortages in Syria.
The first natural gas deposits were discovered in 1982 and since the late 1990s, production has increased. The gas sector has also been damaged by the war, but the government and its Russian allies control the country’s largest gas field al-Sha’ir. Several projects were initiated prior to the uprising to link Syrian gas pipelines with neighboring countries, but these are no longer feasible.
Electricity production has mainly been based on oil and gas and to a certain extent hydropower. Large investments have been made to increase electricity production, which tripled between 1994 and 2004. Nevertheless, demand was always greater than supply. Many power plants were old and poorly maintained. Especially in the summers, electricity is switched off in the major cities for hours every morning and evening. There have been loose plans for a Russian-built nuclear power plant, but it is viewed with great suspicion in the US and Israel, which fear that Syria wants to acquire nuclear weapons.
The hydropower from the Euphrates dam has also failed to meet production targets. Lack of rain, along with Turkish dams in the upper Euphrates, has led to a reduction in water flows on the Syrian side of the border. At the same time, Syrian projects have contributed to lower water flows in Iraq. Falling groundwater levels create problems in several parts of the country. The high Population growth has exacerbated the water shortage and several times the authorities have rationed the water in the larger cities.
Electricity production has been seriously damaged by the war and the oil shortage, and some parts of Syria are now completely out of regular electricity supply. The worst is the situation in opposition-controlled areas in the north and east.
FACTS – ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT
Energy use per person
575 kilos of oil equivalent (2014)
Electricity consumption per person
971 kilowatt hours, kWh (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions in total
30 704 thousand tonnes (2014)
Carbon dioxide emissions per inhabitant
1.6 tonnes (2014)
The share of energy from renewable sources
0.5 percent (2015)