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London — * BP absent from list of qualified IOCs
* US oil, gas producers also stay away
* US sanctions still hampering financing

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Iran's state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. on Monday published a list of 29 international oil companies that are now qualified to participate in the country's new upstream oil and gas deals.

The list includes European oil majors Shell, Total and Eni but BP and US producers are absent amid ongoing concerns over remaining US sanctions hanging over the OPEC producer.

According to NIOC's website, the 29 major exploration and production companies -- which had participated in NIOC's qualification process by sending related documents and information since October -- were hand-picked by NIOC.



Tehran is finalizing tenders under its new Iran Petroleum Contract model, which it hopes will attract billions of dollars in spending on 50 new upstream projects to boost production capacity.

"We had close to 60 applications, of which 29 were qualified," NIOC deputy managing director for development and engineering Gholamreza Manouchehri told S&P Global Platts.

China's CNOOC, CNPC, Sinopec and Russia's Gazprom and Lukoil are listed, while other named companies include Spain's Cepsa, Japan's Inpex, Korea Gas Corporation, Denmark's Maersk, Austria's OMV, India's ONGC Videsh Limited, Indonesia's Pertamina, Malaysia's Petronas, Poland's PGNiG, France's Schlumberger, and Germany's Wintershall.


BP ABSENCE


A BP spokeswoman declined to comment on any future investment plans by BP in Iran but in October CEO Bob Dudley said oil companies continued to treat the country with caution due to uncertainties over remaining US financial sanctions.

Although US and EU sanctions on oil deals with Iran were lifted in January last year, investment by US companies remains blocked as the US continues to ban financial transactions, and the majority of "primary sanctions" applicable to US citizens and companies domiciled in the US remain in effect.

Speculation over renewed US diplomatic tensions with Iran has also been fueled by comments from President-elect Donald Trump over plans to end the deal that lifted international sanctions on Tehran's nuclear program.

Dudley in October also noted that new investments decision need to be made "extremely carefully" as oil companies struggle break even due to low oil prices.

BP has signed a spate of upstream deals in recent weeks which include spending commitments on Oman's huge Khazzan tight gas project, Egypt's giant Zohr gas field and offshore drilling in Mauritania and Senegal. It also recently entered into a major upstream deal with Abu Dhabi, which staunchly supports Saudi Arabia's hostility towards Tehran due to Iran's alleged involved in the Yemen and Syria conflicts.

But BP, whose corporate history is intertwined with that of modern Iran, has main inroads into re-establishing its presence in the country. It reopened an office in Tehran during the summer and bought a spot condensate cargo from the country in October.


EUROPEAN INTEREST


Most of the major oil and gas companies named in the shortlist have signed memorandums of understanding with Iran to study certain oil and gas fields that Iran will have to offer for investment and technology provision.

However, some companies such as Russia's Rosneft, Zarubzhneft and Tatneft -- which had signed MOUs with NIOC to study Iranian oil and gas fields and present their MDPs -- are also absent from the list.

Iran has announced that the first tender to be held in 2017 will be for its giant South Azadegan oil field, shared with Iraq. South Azadegan's oil recovery rate was about 5.5%, Manouchehri had said in late December, with NIOC aiming to increase it to about 20%, reaching a production rate of 600,000 b/d in the next few years.

NIOC and its subsidiaries have signed a flurry of deals this year with international oil companies, including European-based oil majors Shell and Total, for development studies on large onshore and offshore Iranian oil fields. The studies are precursors to competitive tenders for development contracts.

Italy's Eni said in November it remained interested in new upstream deals in post-sanctions Iran after Total signed a provisional deal with Iran to develop phase 11 of Iran's huge South Pars gas field, a project Eni had reportedly been in the running for.

Eni is also interested in returning to develop Iran's onshore Darkhovin oil field, according to reports, where it stopped work in 2009. Eni completed the second phase of a key development project, increasing production from Darkhovin to 160,000 b/d from 100,000 b/d before pulling out.

--Aresu Eqbali, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Robert Perkins, robert.perkins@spglobal.com

--Edited by Alisdair Bowles, alisdair.bowles@spglobal.com