Is Iran getting squeezed by international oil sanctions? It depends how you look at it. On the one hand, Iran is still benefiting from rising tensions that are making traders nervous and nudging up oil prices. But, as my colleagues Steven Mufson and Joby Warrick report today, Iran is also increasingly struggling to find buyers for its crude oil, as countries such as India and South Korea cut back on purchases in advance of a new E.U.-led oil embargo set to take effect July 1.
So let’s see this in chart form. Stuart Staniford has painstakingly assembled a graph of Iranian oil production over the past decade, based on a variety of data sources (Iran’s self-reported figures aren’t always the most reliable):
We can see that Iranian oil production fell dramatically after the 2001 and 2008 global downturns — that’s because OPEC nations agreed to restrain oil production to prevent prices from falling too far. But since 2008, even as OPEC has ramped back up production, Iran’s output appears to have stagnated. Staniford sees this as a sign that U.S.-led sanctions could be working: “[The] fact that they’ve made no increase in production in 2011, and in fact have declining production, suggests they’ve lost the capacity to produce, or at least export, that much oil (presumably due to sanctions).”
The other thing to note, though, is that Iranian production hasn’t fallen very far yet — only about 200,000 barrels per day since 2009. Given that the world produces about 90 million barrels per day of liquid fuel, that’s not a dramatic loss. And this suggests, as Staniford notes, that a lot of the recent spike in the price of crude oil is based on what the market expects will happen to supplies in the future, rather than what’s happened so far.
For instance, one analyst quoted by The Post predicts that Iran could eventually find itself stranded with 500,000 barrels of oil per day that it can’t sell to anyone — a pretty significant drop in a world where oil supplies are tight and strife in Sudan, Yemen and Syria has already taken 600,000 barrels of oil per day off the market. But as the chart above suggests, Iran hasn’t seen a big plunge in production just yet — which means that, for the time being, the country can still profit from soaring prices.