Dubai — Total is awaiting a decision by China National Petroleum Corp. on whether it will take over its stake in the development of Iran's giant South Pars natural gas field, the company said Monday.
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The French company's potential exit comes against the backdrop of the threat of US sanctions on Iran forcing international companies to reconsider their dealings with the Iran, which shares access to the world's largest proven offshore natural gas reservoir in the Persian Gulf.
Total operates the project with a 50.1% stake, is partnered by China's CNPC (30%) and Iran's Petropars (19.9%). The partners signed a $4.8-billion deal with Iran last July, becoming the first major Western energy company to invest there since previous sanctions over its nuclear power program were lifted at the start of 2016.
"The contractual process is still ongoing and for our part, we have not been informed of an official CNPC position, but as we have always indicated, CNPC, a Chinese state-owned company, has the right to take over our participation if CNPC decide it," a Total spokesman said Monday.
CNPC declined to comment.
Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne said on July 7 that the threat of US sanctions was making it impossible again for international energy companies to work in Iran. A month earlier, the company said it had halted development plans, having invested less than Eur40 million ($46 million) in the project, but was lobbying the US government for a waiver.
Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh has given Total 60 days to withdraw from the South Pars contract if it is unable to secure a waiver from the US for the project before handing its share to CNPC. This expired in July.
Officials have since sent mixed messages about the status of the project. Mohammad Mostafavi, director of investment at National Iranian Oil Co., told the official IRNA news agency on Saturday that that CNPC had taken over Total's share in the gas project, giving it an 80.1% stake.
However, his comments were later contradicted by the oil ministry's official news agency Shana.
"The members of the consortium in charge of developing Phase 11 of South Pars will accomplish their roles as set forth in the provisions of the agreement and no modifications have been made to the provisions of the contract," Mostafavi, was later quoted saying by Shana on Sunday.
The South Pars Phase 11 development is aimed initially at domestic gas demand, with a production capacity of 2 Bcf/d. Due on stream in 2021, the project should also yield around 70,000 b/d of condensate.
The US re-imposed the first batch of sanctions lifted under the Iran nuclear deal on August 7, targeting the use of dollars in trade with Iran, metals and the automotive sector. The second batch of sanctions comes into effect on November 5, including measures against Iran's oil sector.
However, they are already having an impact. South Korea, the country's third-largest crude and condensate buyer in 2017, halted imports in July. Iranian oil exports fell to their lowest in four months in July, according to S&P Global Platts estimates, with key buyers starting to curtail their purchases.
Estimated export volumes on Aframaxes, Suezmaxes and VLCCs from Iranian ports in July fell by 7% to 2.32 million b/d from 2.49 million b/d in June, according to data from S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow. Faster rates of decline are expected as the November sanctions approach.
--Adal Mirza, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Jonathan Dart, email@example.com