LONDON (Reuters) - BP Plc, the British government and the European Union lobbied U.S. lawmakers to have a BP-led project exempted from proposed new U.S. sanctions which seek to stop Western companies doing business with Iran, sources close to the matter said.
U.S. lawmakers are mulling new sanctions to constrict the funding that Western nations suspect Iran is using to develop nuclear weapons.
One congressional aide said senators were discussing provisions that could bar companies like BP from working with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).
NIOC’s subsidiary, Naftiran Intertrade Co, owns a 10 percent stake in the Shah Deniz project which is co-led by BP and Norway’s Statoil and which is estimated to contain 1.2 trillion cubic meters of gas.
Production at the deposit began in 2006, while second phase production — which is expected to help reduce Europe’s reliance on Russia for its gas supplies — is expected to begin by late 2016 or early 2017.
“The EU has requested that the United States exempt Shah Deniz from U.S. sanctions on the grounds that the project is important to EU energy security,” a British government source said.
BP acknowledged discussing the matter with lawmakers.
“We have routine engagement with Congress and we regularly provide information to help them understand the impact of potential legislation on certain activities we are involved in,” a spokesman said.
BP has already been forced to shut production at the Rhum gas field in the North Sea, following European Union (EU) sanctions, because the Iranian Oil Co Ltd has a 50 percent.
However, Shah Deniz was exempted from these sanctions because it is seen as more strategic. The U.S. is also an eager supporter of the project as it is keen for Europe to reduce its reliance on Russia for energy imports.
Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters