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Reuters: Shell sees dilemma over Iran investment

Thu Feb 1, 2007
By Peg Mackey and Alex Lawler

LONDON (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell said on Thursday it faces a dilemma over its proposed multibillion dollar investment in a gasfield in Iran, which is under U.S. pressure for its atomic work and alleged interference in Iraq.

The Anglo-Dutch company and Spain’s Repsol have signed a preliminary deal to develop part of Iran’s giant South Pars gasfield, despite Washington urging its allies not to invest in the country. Tehran values the deal at $10 billion (5 billion pounds).

Shell Chief Executive Jeroen van der Veer said politics would be taken into account when a final investment decision is taken in about a year.

“I would like to emphasise that we have here quite a dilemma. This is Iran. They are the number two in oil and gas reserves in the world,” he told a conference call following Shell’s fourth quarter results.

“But we have all the short-term political concerns.”

There are strong commercial considerations. Shell and Repsol are both seeking access to big sources of oil and gas reserves after meeting limited success in finding new supplies in recent years.

Iran is one of the few major energy resource holders open to foreign investors. Saudi Arabia, home to the world’s biggest oil reserves, keeps its oilfields closed to international firms.

The “Persian LNG” project would develop South Pars phases 13 and 14, build an eight million tonnes per annum liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and then convert the gas to liquid for export to world markets.

If the United States gets its way, the ambitious project might not materialise.

Last year Japan’s Inpex Holdings Inc. ceded control of a $2 billion scheme to develop the Azadegan oilfield citing “operational issues”. Analysts suspected a political dimension.

Washington is urging its allies to halt foreign investment. It accuses Iran of undermining efforts to stabilise Iraq and of pursuing nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear ambitions are for generating electricity.

Van der Veer said he was unaware of any political pressure at this early stage.

“Naturally we are following international developments closely and keep a wide range of governments and other stakeholders informed,” said the Shell CEO.

U.S. PRESSURE

U.S. officials have said the preliminary deal struck by Shell and Repsol with Iran could trigger U.S. sanctions under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.

The Iran sanctions measure, which took effect in 1995, requires Washington to slap sanctions on foreign companies that invest more than $20 million a year in Iran’s energy sector.

But the U.S. law has proved toothless and Tehran has lured more than $10 billion in foreign cash into oil and gas fields.

Among the mainly European companies was Shell, which invested close to $1 billion in Iran’s offshore Soroush/Nowrooz oilfields. France’s Total and Italy’s ENI have also invested billions in projects.

Shell will weigh carefully the full range of considerations before deciding to commit to the project.

“In the final investment decision, that is when you commit the big money,” said Shell’s van der Veer.

“That is the moment that you have to take into account all aspects which are relevant on that day. And that, of course, can be political considerations as well.”

Notable for its absence in Iran, is BP whose CEO John Browne has said investment there is off limits, for now, for fear of damaging the company’s relationship with the United States.

For its part, Iran remains undaunted by Washington’s efforts to discourage foreign investment.

“We are doing our job just as usual,” Gholamhossein Nozari, Managing Director of the National Iranian Oil Company told reporters at an energy conference in Vienna.

“We haven’t seen any negative response from companies so far. We hope the political situation will be resolved.”

(Additional reporting by Simon Webb in Vienna)
 
© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.  

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1 Comment on “Reuters: Shell sees dilemma over Iran investment”

  1. #1 Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi
    on Feb 2nd, 2007 at 10:23

    VERY helpful and detailed site.

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