Iran’s Dark Tanker Fleet Poses Oil World’s Biggest Mystery - Bloomberg
Iranian crude oil tanker, Adrian Darya 1.
Photographer : Marcelo del Pozo/Bloomberg
While one Iranian tanker is attracting global attention, serious oil watchers remain absorbed by a bigger mystery: the hunt for the rest of Iran’s fleet.
The quest has led to ever more inventive methods of tracking ships, and divergent views on the amounts of crude secretly slipping into world markets. That’s because the vessels have mostly “gone dark” since sanctions were tightened this year, switching off transponders that would reveal their location.
“Iran is a black box, but it’s also not a black box” as there are ways to uncover secretive activity, said Devin Geoghegan, global director of petroleum intelligence at Genscape Inc. in Denver, Colorado. “Iran is simply doing a better job of putting their oil into other people’s hands — or their own storage tin-cans — than anybody has expected.”
Genscape estimates that combined output of crude and condensate has only fallen by 15% since the first quarter of 2018, and may currently be as much as 3.9 million barrels a day, with exports of about 500,000 to 1 million a day. That extra production isn’t necessarily being sold, and appears to be moving into storage both on land — including underground facilities that aren’t widely acknowledged — and at sea.
Consequently, the surprising resilience of Iran’s oil industry may not last much longer. As storage fills up, output may need to be lowered.