Iranian Oil Ministry Corruption Is Causing Shortage of Tar Bitumen, MP Says

By Hamed Mohammadi

A group inside the Iranian Oil Ministry has monopolized the sale and export of vacuum bitumen, which is the raw material used to produce bitumen, commonly known as tar or asphalt, according to Ahmad Alirezabeigi a member of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament), representing Tabriz, Osku, and Azarshahr in the northwestern province of East Azerbaijan.

Vacuum bitumen is produced by refining crude oil and also through a process called straight-run vacuum distillation. Asphalt is a mixture of alumina, lime, silica, and asphaltic bitumen. Tar is a high viscous liquid with significant carbon content.

“A shortage of tar has halted many development projects in the country,” Mr. Alirezabeigi said in an interview with the Mehr News Agency on November 10. “The Oil Ministry does not supply Iranian tar manufacturers with vacuum bitumen.”

“There is a mafia inside the Oil Ministry which sells and exports most of the vacuum bitumen used in producing tar,” Alirezabeigi added. “The group sells the material to a select number of domestic manufacturers which, instead of using it to produce tar, export it for massive profits. The collusion between the Oil Ministry and the export mafia is threatening the job security of 2,000 Iranian workers in the tar industry.”

The shortage of tar is the principal reason for many buildings, construction, development, and road projects coming to a halt in several central and southeastern provinces.

According to Mehdi Jamalinejad, the Deputy Interior Minister for Urban and Rural Affairs, the government will launch an infrastructure project in four western border areas in October 2020 to facilitate pilgrims traveling to Iraq. Mr. Jamalinejad, however, highlighted several issues that have hindered the implementation of the project, including a shortage of tar.

“We have improved water and electricity services this year significantly, but some issues remain unresolved,” Jamalinejad said in an interview with the Young Journalists Club (JUC) on November 7. “For instance, we have had a problem with the tar supply. The initial phases of construction projects have been completed. Many of these border towns are just waiting for the tar. Unfortunately, we have paid cash to local city authorities in place of tar they need to complete the projects in their regions.”

Iran is the biggest exporter of bitumen in the Middle East and the second in Asia after South Korea. Many manufacturers, suppliers, and exporters of bitumen believe the industry plays a significant role in helping the country’s economy.

During a news conference on November 9, Majid Azami, the managing director of the Jay Oil Refinery, said that his company had exported vacuum bitumen and tar to 19 countries, mostly Iran’s neighbors, in 2018.

“The company generated $400 million last year,” Mr. Azami was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency. “The sale figure stands at $250 million so far this year. We predict the total export will reach $450 million by the end of the year.”

According to Mohammad Rahi, the director of research and development of Pasargad Oil Company, one of the largest producers of bitumen in the Middle East, Iran produces 7 percent of the world’s tar supply.

“The world produces 115 million tons of tar every year, 6 million of which is produced by Iran,” Mr. Rahi was quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) November 11. “Iran exports around 4 million tons of tar, and the rest is for domestic consumption.”

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]