EghtesadOnline: China’s top oil and gas company CNPC is considering taking over Total’s stake in a giant Iranian gas project, if the French company leaves Iran to comply with any new US sanctions, industry sources said.
Total signed the $1 billion deal to develop the South Pars Gas Field in July. The contract gave CNPC the option to take over Total’s stake if it pulled out, according to sources involved in the talks, Reuters reported.
The deal was the first major western energy investment in Iran since international sanctions were lifted as part of a landmark agreement in 2015 over Iran’s nuclear program.
But after US President Donald Trump refused in October to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal, Congress will have to vote on whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran, Financial Tribune reported.
It was unclear when a vote would take place or what sanctions might be imposed, but they could bar companies working in Iran from also operating in the United States.
Total Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne has said his company would leave if it was no longer able to operate in Iran.
Under the terms of the agreement to develop Phase 11 of South Pars, the world’s largest gas field, CNPC could take over Total’s 50.1% stake and become operator of the project if Total is forced to withdraw from Iran, a senior Beijing-based source with knowledge of the joint-venture agreement said.
CNPC has a 30% stake, while Iran's state-owned Petropars holds the remaining 19.9%. CNPC officials have held internal talks in recent weeks to discuss the implications of taking control, according to three industry sources briefed on the talks.
A senior official at Total said the company has “some mechanism that permits us to exit the deal softly if forced to by international sanctions”.
A change in ownership structure would mean that CNPC would shoulder 80% of the cost of the project, estimated at $2 billion for the first stage.
It would also have to bring in new technical teams to manage and operate the offshore project. This could mean involving its rival CNOOC, China’s largest offshore operator.
“In the case of a Total withdrawal, CNPC may need to bring in CNOOC because CNPC has little experience offshore,” a second senior Chinese industry official said.
Total faces losses of several tens of millions of dollars if it pulls out of the project.
The South Pars project will have a production capacity of 2 billion cubic feet per day, or 400,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day including condensate, Total has said. It would start supplying the Iranian domestic market starting in 2021.