China set to take lead in world's biggest gas field

TEHRAN • China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) is expected to take the lead on a US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) project to develop Iran's share of the world's biggest gas deposit, taking over from France's Total, which halted operations after US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic. 

State-owned CNPC, which joined a consortium with Total and Iran's Petropars in 2016 to develop Phase 11 of the South Pars Gas field, is set to increase its stake in the project from the current 30 per cent.

Total had originally agreed to take a 50.1 per cent interest.

CNPC will become the lead operating partner, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing Mr Mohammad Mostafavi, National Iranian Oil's investments and business head. Terms of the contract have not yet officially changed, according to Shana, the Oil Ministry's news service. Calls to CNPC went unanswered yesterday. Total declined to comment.

Total, which finalised its agreement with Iran in July last year, had already spent some €40 million (S$63 million) on the project when Mr Trump announced in May that the US would exit the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions on Teheran.

The first round of US sanctions was put back into place last week, with more to come in November, greatly complicating efforts by companies that rushed into the Islamic republic after the nuclear accord was signed by Iran, the US and five other countries plus the European Union.

Scores of European companies, including Total, have withdrawn from the oil-rich Persian Gulf country since the US reversal.

CNPC has been active in Iran since 2004, operating in oil, gas and oil-field services, according to the company's website. In 2006, it was awarded a three-year contract to provide offshore well-logging and other services at South Pars.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2018, with the headline 'China set to take lead in world's biggest gas field'. Print Edition | Subscribe