Iran’s natural gas imports have averaged 15.2 million cubic metres a day (cm/d) since the start of the current Iranian year in March 2009, a 26 per cent drop compared to the previous year, according to the latest figures from the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC).

At the same time, the country’s gas exports increased by 35 per cent. Exports to Turkey, Iran’s main export market, stood at 30 million cm/d, up from 13.2 million cm/d in the previous year.

The figures were released on 22 February by the state-run news agency Shana.

Total imports since March 2009 are 4.8 billion cubic metres, down from 6.5 billion cubic metres in the previous year.

Turkmenistan opened a second gas import pipeline to Iran in January. The 30-kilometre-long pipeline will boost Iran’s imports from Turkmenistan to 14 billion cubic metres a year, according to Javad Oji, managing director of NIGC, from about 8 billion cubic metres. The figure could eventually reach 20 billion cubic metres he says.

Despite its considerable gas reserves, estimated at 29.6 trillion cubic metres, Iran plays a relatively small role in the global gas market.

In 2008, the country produced 116 billion cubic metres of natural gas, 96 per cent of which was consumed domestically.

Iran plans to spend $200bn in an effort to almost double gas production over the next five years. It wants to expand production from the current 600 million cm/d to 1 billion cm/d by 2014.