Controlling Iran's Control On Oil

Tensions between Iran and the United States are growing — with Iran threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz which carries oil supplies from the Middle East to the rest of the world. One Houston professor suggests a method for diffusing the situation while providing stability to the oil shipping industry.

Professor Dagobert Brito is an expert in political economy and a Rice Scholar at the Baker Institute at Rice University.

He says right now 20 percent of the world's oil is shipped through the Strait of Hormuz, controlled by Iran.

But a paper he released suggests a chemical concoction could increase the capacity of existing pipelines in the Arabian Peninsula and allow shippers to bypass Iran altogether.

"I worked for Shell and the project I had at Shell was studying the feasibility of drag reduction agents. The in '98-'99 we had a project here at the Baker Institute on Middle Eastern Oil and I remembered what I knew about drag reduction agents. And it occurred to me that this would be a good way to move oil across Arabia and avoid Hormuz."

Drag reduction agents can be injected into pipelines to reduce friction and increase capacity.

The U.S. Navy got wind of Prof. Brito's paper and commissioned a study for the Department of Defense. Brito says, to his knowledge, they never did anything with it.

"People do this all the time. I mean, this is not strange and new technology, it's really old engineering. There's nothing technically difficult about this."

Brito says the growing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia may make the Saudis more receptive to such a plan and it would considerably weaken Iran's political influence and leverage.

View the online version of Professor Dagobert Brito's paper Revisiting Alternatives to the Strait of Hormuz.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...