EghtesadOnline: Royal Dutch Shell has bought only three cargoes of Iranian oil since sanctions were eased a year ago, a small fraction of what it used to buy and an indication of the legal difficulties and high prices that still hamper the trade.
The Anglo-Dutch firm did not give a reason for the drop in purchases, which were disclosed in its annual report, and the company declined to comment further, Reuters reported.
But oil trading sources say Iranian oil is often expensive and in any case remaining sanctions make dealing with the country a legal minefield.
As an example of sanctions-related difficulties, Shell's filings showed it had to disclose payments of only a few hundred dollars when its employees bought tickets with Iranian airlines, Financial Tribune reported.
After an accord was reached over Iran's nuclear program, the European Union eased sanctions on Iran in January 2016 and the United States lifted some restrictions on dollar trade, moves that have allowed Iran to raise its oil exports sharply.
But while trade with Asian and European buyers soared, many oil majors subject to US legal jurisdiction remain cautious about buying Iranian oil.
Earlier this month the Trump administration imposed new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities.
The price of falling foul of sanctions can be very high. In 2014 French bank BNP Paribas agreed to pay almost $9 billion to resolve accusations that it had violated US sanctions including those against Iran.
Iran said last month that US sanctions were making it impossible to cooperate with American firms on energy projects.
Of the oil majors, only Total has been buying Iranian crude over the past year in volumes comparable to pre-sanctions levels. France's biggest oil firm is looking to clinch a new deal with Tehran to develop oil and gas reserves.
Trade With Tehran
Shell said in its annual report it had bought only three cargoes of Iranian oil over the past year.
These were a $45 million cargo in May, on which it made a profit of $1.1 million, followed by two cargoes in December costing $103 million and $106 million respectively. Those are still in transit so no profit or loss has been yet made on them, Shell said.
During the course of 2016, Shell also repaid $1.94 billion in debt to Iran for oil purchases it made before stricter EU sanctions were imposed on Iran in 2012.
At that time, Shell was buying as much as 200,000 barrels per day or six large cargoes of Iranian oil a month.
Despite some easing of US restriction on trading with Iran in dollars, Shell said none of the payments was made in dollars.
But even with the difficulties, Shell reopened an office in Tehran last year and signed non-binding agreements with the National Iranian Oil Co. to work together in the petrochemical sector, in oil and gas developments, and in gas export opportunities.
Shell also reported a series of tiny transactions with Tehran in 2016, including $224 in stamp duties, $168 paid to the Iranian consulate in the Netherlands to notarize documents, and $592 for tickets with Iranian airlines.
Shell, whose international dealings are usually reckoned in tens of millions of dollars, also disclosed a small fuel sale to the Iranian Embassy in Argentina.