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EghtesadOnline: Iran accounts for nearly 40% of gas consumption in the Middle East, a senior gas official said, underlining the unacceptably high energy consumption patterns that have been strongly criticized by economic experts and environmentalists for decades.

“By some accounts, Iran holds the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. But the lion’s share of output is consumed domestically,” Mohammad Hussein Adeli, secretary general of the Gas Exporting Countries’ Forum (GECF) said, ISNA reported on Saturday.

“Almost 40% of Middle East’s gas consumption takes place in Iran, which is unreasonably high by any standard. The residential sector is the largest consumer, followed by power plants.”

Part of the consumption can be attributed to the government’s push to increase the supply of natural gas as a clean fossil fuel to power plants and curb the burning of environmentally-unfriendly fuels, such as diesel and mazut, Financial Tribune reported.

But Adeli acknowledges that domestic consumption is disproportionate to production and exports.

“The biggest challenge in the gas sector is unrestrained consumption that has thwarted  export levels. Small wonder that Iran’s share in the gas market is negligible.”

According to the latest government data, gas production is around 880 million cubic meters per day. More than 90% of the gas export, or 30 mcm/d, goes to Turkey.

With a population of 80 million, Iran burns more than 140 billion cubic meters of gas annually, not far from China, the world’s second-largest economy and the most populous country in the world, which consumed a total of 191 billion cubic meters in 2015, data show.

Abundance of natural gas, coupled with cheap tariffs and subsidies, have led to profligate use of the fossil fuel in Iran. Analysts and experts have long argued that unless the government scales back heavy energy subsidies, the wasteful consumption pattern will endure.

GECF Iran Gas Consumption Mohammad Hussein Adeli