United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Part 1: Key Facts on Strait of Hormuz

Annika Folkeson

Tension has increased between Iran and the United States over the past weeks after the United States imposed new sanctions and Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. The following are key facts on the Strait.

  • The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important chokepoint with an oil flow of almost 17 million barrels per day in 2011, up from between 15.5-16.0 million bbl/d in 2009-2010.
  • Flows through the Strait in 2011 were roughly 35 percent of all seaborne traded oil, or almost 20 percent of oil traded worldwide.
  • 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.
  • About three-quarters of Japan's oil imports and about 50 percent of China's pass through this strait.[1]
  • 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.
  • The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet consists of 20-plus ships supported by combat aircraft, with 15,000 people afloat and another 1,000 ashore.[2]

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

 

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