Iraqi Southern Oil Company engineers look towards the natural gas flares in the Zubair oil field in southern Iraq on January 21, 2010. (Photo: ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP)
Iran, Iraq and Syria inked on Monday a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of pipelines designed to deliver Iran's natural gas to the two Arab nations in the next three to five years and possibly to Lebanon and Europe in the future, local media reported.
"The overall cost of the project is estimated around $10 billion," deputy oil minister and chairman of the Iranian National Gas Company (NIGC), Javad Ouji, was quoted by the Mehr news agency as saying after the signing ceremony.
The construction of pipelines stretching for several thousand kilometres (miles) "should take three to five years once funding is secured," according to an estimate by Ouji on Sunday.
The MoU was signed in the southern Iranian port of Assalouyeh, the nation's gas hub, by Iraqi Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi, his Syrian counterpart Sufian Allaw and Iran's oil ministry caretaker Mohammad Aliabadi, media reported.
According to Mehr, the document envisages setting up within a month three working groups to look respectively at the technical, financial and legal aspects of the project, which has been under discussion since 2008.
"Soon the feasibility studies will be given to an international consultant," Ouji said without detailing any timetable.
The Iranian official had on Sunday said he hoped the final agreement launching the project could be signed before the end of the year.
Iran has the second largest proven gas reserves in the world after Russia.
It currently consumes almost all of the approximately 600 million cubic metres (21.8 trillion cubic feet) per day of gas production, but hopes to double its production and export some
250 million cubic metres per day to its neighbours and to Europe from 2015 through developing a giant offshore gas field in the Gulf, which it shares with Qatar.