|U.S. Energy Information Administration Map|
Iran's army chief on Tuesday warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf in Tehran's latest tough rhetoric over the strategic waterway, part of a feud with the United States over new sanctions that has sparked a jump in oil prices.And, well, this time they mean it so much they won't repeat their warning:
“We usually don’t repeat our warning, and we warn only once,” Ataollah Salehi was cited as saying by the state-run Fars news agency. “We recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf.”
Could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? Maybe, but, in my view, (1) not for very long and (2) at a huge cost to - Iran. Energy markets would spike, but only until it becomes clear that there are alternative routes for oil to flow (see the map above). See here:
On average, 14 crude oil tankers per day passed through the Strait in 2011, with a corresponding amount of empty tankers entering to pick up new cargos. More than 85 percent of these crude oil exports went to Asian markets, with Japan, India, South Korea, and China representing the largest destinations.China might be the most affected country if the Strait of Hormuz is closed.
At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone. The Strait is deep and wide enough to handle the world's largest crude oil tankers, with about two-thirds of oil shipments carried by tankers in excess of 150,000 deadweight tons.
Closure of the Strait of Hormuz would require the use of longer alternate routes at increased transportation costs. Alternate routes include the 745 mile long Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, across Saudi Arabia from Abqaiq to the Red Sea. The East-West Pipeline has a nameplate capacity of about 5 million bbl/d. The Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids pipeline, which runs parallel to the Petroline to the Red Sea, has a 290,000-bbl/d capacity. Additional oil could also be pumped north via the Iraq-Turkey pipeline to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea, but volumes have been limited by the closure of the Strategic pipeline linking north and south Iraq.
The United Arab Emirates is also completing the 1.5 million bbl/d Abu Dhabi Crude Oil Pipeline pipeline that will cross the emirate of Abu Dhabi and end at the port of Fujairah just south of the Strait. Other alternate routes could include the deactivated 1.65-million bbl/d Iraqi Pipeline across Saudi Arabia (IPSA), and the deactivated 0.5 million-bbl/d Tapline to Lebanon.
An interesting piece from Arab News by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, "Strait of Hormuz and Iranian threats":
Every five years, the Iranians would threaten the whole world that they would close the Strait of Hormuz. They never did. They simply can’t do it and they are not capable of doing it even if they wanted to do it.That the Iranians feel the need to rattle swords right now may be due to the shambles of their already weak economy and the internal political fallout from the drive to develop nuclear weapons. In the meantime, they gain some benefit from increasing oil prices caused by their threats.