Syrian Oil
A group of men smuggle diesel fuel from Syria to Turkey hoping to sell it at a higher price, across the Al-Assi River in Darkush town, in the Idlib countryside May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

As the situation in Syria deteriorates with a threatened U.S. airstrike over President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons, the Damascus regime still controls one of the largest conventional hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean.

Syria possessed 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil as of January 2013, which makes it the largest proved reserve of crude oil in the eastern Mediterranean according to the Oil & Gas Journal estimate.

But after two and a half years of war, exploration is at a standstill since international oil companies once operating in Syria have abandoned their operations as the violence escalates and sanctions target Syria’s energy sector.

Russia, the chief backer of the Assad regime, is the only remaining international partner still helping develop Syria’s oil and gas resources in the past year.

A Congressional Research Service report found that Syria was still in discussion with Russia and China over offshore exploration in April, but few details are known.

Syria also has oil shale resources with estimated reserves that range as high as 50 billion tons, according to a Syrian government source in 2010.

This may explain one of the reason’s Russia has a huge stake in Damascus as its state-owned energy companies have been profiting off the despotic Assad regime.

In a recent interview, Assad said, “From a purely economic perspective, there are several agreements between Syria and Russia for various goods and materials. As for a loan from Russia, this should be viewed as beneficial to both parties; for Russia it is an opportunity for its national industries and companies to expand into new markets.”

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in a testimony to Congress in March, said Russia's support for Assad includes selling Syrian oil on world markets.