By Alex Lawler and Peg Mackey
VIENNA Dec 4 Iran on Wednesday named seven
Western oil companies it wants back in its vast oil and gas
fields if international sanctions are lifted and said it would
outline investment terms in April next year.
Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh named the seven in
order: Total of France, Royal Dutch Shell,
Italy's ENI, Norway's Statoil, Britain's BP
and U.S. companies Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips
Iran has the world's fourth-largest proved national reserves
of oil - most of it cheap to produce - and is home to the
biggest proved reserves of natural gas, some 18 percent of the
With nationalisation in the Islamic revolution of 1979, the
oil companies were thrown out and Iran's share of world oil
production fell to below 40 percent by 1997 from 55 percent in
the 1970s. They drifted back in the 1990s, and Zanganeh oversaw
that return as minister in a reformist government of 1997-2005.
Total moved back into onshore fields in 1997 and Shell in
1999, both while Zanganeh was minister, and both in defiance of
U.S. sanctions. President Bill Clinton had blocked a Conoco
project in 1995.
But Iran's production stagnated through the 2000s amid
growing international tensions over its nuclear programme. The
more effective sanctions instituted in 2012 have choked out
foreign investment and sent output down to 2.65 million barrels
a day in November from an average of 4.3 million in 2011.
Iran reached an interim deal last month with six western
powers to limit its nuclear programme, under which sanctions on
oil investment and trade with Iran may be eased next year -
although for now the agreement does not explicitly include a
relaxation of the controls on Iranian oil sales.
EUROPEAN TALKS FIRST
Speaking to reporters at an OPEC meeting, Zanganeh said he
was already talking with some companies, although so far not
those from the United States.
"We had no limitations for U.S. companies. Twenty years ago
there were limitations against them from their own
administration. For doing projects in Iran, we have no
limitations," Zanganeh said.
He is due to meet senior executives from Western oil
companies including Eni and Shell on Thursday, an Iranian oil
Zanganeh made no mention of Russian, Chinese or Japanese
companies or those of other nationalities. Asked whether he
would like to see Asian, Indian or Chinese companies coming to
Iran as well, he said: "Yes, but now we are discussing with
He said contract terms would be better than those in
post-war Iraq, which limited oil companies to operating fees
rather than the share of production deals they prefer.
"I cannot say more about the detail," Zanganeh said.
Mehdi Hosseini, an Iranian official in charge of revising
national investment terms, told Reuters he hoped to be able to
introduce the new contract model at a London conference in the
second week of April.
"The Iranians aren't under any illusions that they can draw
anyone in before the sanctions are lifted," said a Western oil
executive from a company previously involved in Iran. "And most
international oil companies will be careful not to go one step
too far before a final agreement is reached between Iran and the
A Western oil source from another company that had invested
in Iran said, "A removal of sanctions that would allow for
tangible progress for international oil companies is still at
the minimum 18-24 months away."
The love-hate, on-off relationship between Iran and
foreigners intent on exploiting its oil dates back long before
the revolution of 1979, and BP, perhaps the most badly scarred
by its past experiences there, was being cautious about the
prospects for a new era of co-operation on Wednesday.
"Iran has not had access to a lot of recent technological
developments," said a spokesman. "It clearly has a lot of
potential. However as this is likely to be a very complicated
political process we need to take our time and watch the
Over a hundred years ago, BP was called the Anglo-Persian
Oil Company, and later the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company - with both
names reflecting the importance of Iranian oil to what was then
a state-owned British group. When nationalisation came, BP lost
40 percent of its production.
Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of Total, which
has been closer to the post-1979 regime than most, refused to
take questions about Iran at a conference in Paris on Wednesday.
Eni has never interrupted relations with Iran, having won
some exemptions from the 2012 sanctions so that the country's
debt to it of around $1 billion could be repayed in oil
production. Chief Executive Paolo Scaroni recently said the
group must be ready to re-enter when the situation unlocks.
Shell, Exxon and Conoco all declined to comment on