* Gasoline consumption falls, energy official says
* Iran upbeat in face of sanctions
* Natural gas imports from Turkmenistan increase
By Ramin Mostafavi
TEHRAN, June 29 (Reuters) - Iran sees no risks to its gasoline imports, an oil official said on Tuesday, a day after France’s Total TOTA.PA joined the list of Western oil companies stopping sales to Iran due to sanctions.
The head of the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company told the oil ministry website SHANA that consumption was declining, helping trim Iran’s reliance on gasoline imports.
“Under any conditions we are able to supply the country’s gasoline needs and there is no problem in producing or importing gasoline,” said Farid Ameri, sharing the optimism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has dismissed the sanctions threat.
The world’s fifth-largest oil producer lacks sufficient refining capacity and imports up to 40 percent of its gasoline needs — making it potentially vulnerable to sanctions which the West is pushing to squeeze Iran over its nuclear programme.
Ahmadinejad said on Monday Iran could become self-sufficient in gasoline “within one week” if necessary. [ID:nDAH850806]
As well as attempting to increase domestic refinery output, Iran is trying to reduce demand — a policy that will be intensified later this year when a major phase-out of government subsidies begins. [ID:nHAF640673]
Last week, the U.S. Congress approved unilateral measures that went far beyond the latest wave of U.N. sanctions — including penalties for companies supplying Iran with gasoline. [ID:nN24148251]
Iran says its uranium enrichment programme is entirely peaceful and that it is not seeking a nuclear bomb.
Ameri said average daily gasoline consumption in the first three months of this year was 62.8 million litres (13.81 million Imp gallons), down from 64.4 million year-on-year. Average daily domestic production was 44.6 million litres, he said.
Ameri also said Iran’s stocks of gasoline were up 500 million litres in the period March 21 to June 2, compared with the same period a year ago. He did not disclose Iran’s total stock levels.
In separate comments, an energy official said Iran was signing a contract with Turkmenistan to increase its annual imports of natural gas from its northern neighbour to 14 billion cubic metres from 8 billion previously.
Although it has the world’s second-largest natural gas reserves, after Russia, Iran has so far been unable to exploit the resource to become a net exporter.
Javad Oji, head of the National Iranian Gas Company, said a pipeline under construction to export gas to Pakistan could transport more than first agreed. Talks under way could see Pakistan buying 30 million cubic metres per day, rather than the 21.5 million foreseen in existing agreements, he said.
Pakistan’s position on sanctions has wavered, but on June 22 Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said it was “not bound to follow” U.S. moves [ID:nSGE65L0H0]. (Writing by Robin Pomeroy, editing by Anthony Barker)