Afghan officials during the opening of the oil field in Sarpol province, northern Afghanistan (Afghan Ministry of Mines)

Kabul -

Afghanistan has returned to oil production with the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum announcing the start of extracting crude from wells near the Amu River in Sarpol Province in the north of the country, in a step that will enhance its revenues.

In a comment to Al Jazeera Net, the Afghan Minister of Mines and Petroleum, Shihab al-Din Dilawar, considered the start of oil extraction in his country an “important step in economic development,” expecting it to provide job opportunities for a large number of residents of the northern states.

Delawar expected that the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation would invest $162 million in the crude oil extraction sector in the Amu River field this year, and that its investments would increase within 3 years to $540 million.

Oil exploration in Afghanistan dates back to the 1950s, when in 1958, Afghan and Soviet experts conducted a topographical and geological survey in the northern Afghan provinces, then two years later announced the discovery of oil and gas in the cities of Sheberghan, Sarpol and Faryab.

The Afghan government, with Soviet assistance, began producing crude oil, and the bloc was importing 80% of the production of the natural gas field in the city of Sheberghan before its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, according to Afghan studies.

After the American occupation of Afghanistan, in 2005, the US Geological Survey used a series of old Soviet charts, data available in the Afghan National Archives, and modern technologies to conduct a comprehensive survey to identify mines in Afghanistan, which revealed that the northern regions of the Amu River separating Afghanistan and Asian countries... Central;

It contains up to 1.6 billion barrels of oil and 15.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and the Afghan Ministry of Mines estimated in 2011 that northern Afghanistan contains 1.95 billion barrels of oil.

An oil facility in Sarpol Province, northern Afghanistan (Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum)

  • What is the status of the oil fields in Afghanistan?

Most of the Afghan oil and gas fields were discovered in the 1970s during exploration projects led by the Soviets. The Afghan government then began extracting oil in 1959 from the Angot oil field in the Qashgari region, and it was closed in 2006 due to the involvement of warlords in smuggling oil from it, with remaining reserves estimated at About 6 million barrels.

Experts say that 15 oil fields have been verified in the regions neighboring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and the last discovery was in 1978, but the Afghan governments were unable to benefit and invest in the sector due to successive wars, the most important of which was the Soviet and then American occupation.

  • What are the most important oil fields in Afghanistan?

The most important oil fields are located in the northern states, such as Sarpol, Faryab, Sheberghan, and Herat Province, western Afghanistan. The current Afghan government has begun extracting oil from the fields located in the northern states, such as the Amu River, Qashgari, and Ingut, in Sarpol Province, northern Afghanistan.

  • What about proven oil reserves?

After the discovery of oil in Afghanistan, Soviet and Afghan experts conducted a study on the existing oil reserves in the country. The former director of the archives at the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, Abdul Ghani Karkar, told Al Jazeera Net: “Unfortunately, Soviet experts prepared two versions (of the result of the study) regarding the mineral wealth in Afghanistan.” Including oil reserves, they presented a real copy to their country, and a false copy to the Afghan government, and everyone knows that, and does not know the exact number of oil reserves in the country.”

But a US Geological Survey survey in Afghanistan showed that the oil fields in the northern regions contain up to 1.5 billion barrels of oil and 15.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

  • What is the expected production quantity?

Afghanistan produces more than a thousand barrels per day in the Qashgari field, and the Chinese company plans to drill 22 additional wells with the aim of increasing daily production to more than 15 thousand barrels per day.

Afghanistan consumes 35 thousand barrels of oil per day and ranks 117th in the world in oil consumption, according to the office of the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. According to official figures, Afghanistan needs 2.7 million tons of oil annually, most of which is imported from Iran and Turkmenistan.

  • What is the role of Chinese companies in the oil industry in Afghanistan?

Chinese companies have taken over all fields related to oil and mining, and the latest contract signed by the Chinese Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas Company with the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum is worth $540 million, for a period of 25 years. The company must invest $150 million by the first year, and is also committed to investing the agreed upon amount. By 2026.

But a government official told Al Jazeera Net, preferring not to publish his identity, that the company failed to achieve its investment goal, in addition to the 3-month delay, adding that Chinese companies entered the Afghan arena at the expense of the American and European ones.

Because it does not care about the issues raised by the West, such as human and women’s rights, and its goal is only acquisition, as happened with the copper mine in Logar state, where a Chinese company won the contract to explore in the mine, but it did not begin work for 15 years.

  • What about the legal legitimacy of concluded contracts?

After the Chinese company signed its contract with the Afghan government led by the Taliban, a number of experts and legal experts objected and said that these contracts require an entity that has international and national legitimacy.

They added that the government formed on the basis of the law and the constitution will not be obligated to implement these contracts.

Former spokesman for the Ministry of Mines, Abdul Qadeer Mutafi, told Al Jazeera Net: “The Taliban wants to end the financial problems it faces by concluding contracts and selling minerals as raw materials to different countries, but these contracts do not follow the legal path, which deprives Kabul of international arbitration due to the lack of recognition of the government.” "Taliban."

  • Why do the Taliban insist on extracting oil and exploring in mines?

The Taliban seeks to extract oil on a large scale from oil fields in the northern provinces with the aim of increasing the level of income, and spends the money it collects from mining contracts on government affairs, so that work does not stop.

The government is paying more attention to extracting oil from the fields in the Amu River and the Qashgari fields, and the treasury achieved about $26 million from the project last year from exploration in oil fields and mines, according to a source in the Afghan Ministry of Finance.

  • What are the main obstacles facing the Taliban in extracting oil?

Experts in Afghan affairs believe that the most important obstacle facing the Taliban in extracting oil is the lack of Afghan talent, because most of them left Afghanistan after the American withdrawal, in addition to international sanctions on Afghan banks because foreign companies do not want to invest in oil fields because of these sanctions and because they do not risk investing in oil. Its money is in a country that has not yet recognized its government.

  • Does oil change the living situation?

With foreign aid declining, Afghans have turned their eyes to oil and mines, but given that expanding production takes decades, it will be difficult for now for oil to change living conditions, experts said.

Source: Al Jazeera