Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE)-Total could lose its 50.1 percent stake in the South Pars offshore gas field in Iran if it pulls out of the country because of the new U.S. sanctions against Tehran, Ali Kardor the managing director of state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. has told the media. He added that if this happens, the stake will be absorbed by Total’s partner in the project, China’s CNPC.
If the US Treasury refuses to grant a waiver France and Total must either defy sanctions and risk the consequences or sell out and face humiliation. For the US either they enforce sanctions and damage close ally France and indirectly benefit trade and geopolitical rivals China and of course Iran or if the waiver is granted Donald Trump and the US loses face after defying the world, walking out of the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal and controversially re-imposing sanctions. No doubt the Iranians are enjoying a situation where they cannot lose and their enemies cannot win.
The European Union would dearly love to get access to Iranian gas to counter-balance its main supplier Russia. It was lack of access to Iranian gas to fill it that sank the European Nabbucco gas pipeline project which was openly aimed at Russia. Seeing China walk off with the world’s biggest gas reserves will not improve their already jaundiced view of current US diplomacy.
According to Reuters the Chinese energy giant CNPC is willing to buy French firm Total’s stake in the Iranian South Pars gas project should the latter decide to quit because of US sanctions against Tehran. “The possibility of Total’s pullout is quite high now, and in that scenario CNPC will be ready to take it over fully,” the news agency quotes its industry source as saying.
The South Pars field has the world’s biggest natural gas reserves ever found in one place. As well as Total’s 50.1 percent stake in phase 11 of the South Pars, China already has 30 percent with the remaining shares belonging to Iranian national oil company subsidiary PetroPars.
At the current gas prices, the entire reserves of the South Pars can be estimated at around $2.9 trillion. Iran shares the field with Qatar. Total signed a deal with Iran in July 2017 to develop phase 11 of the gas field with an initial investment of $1 billion. The French company was the first Western firm to invest into Iran’s energy sector after the 2015 nuclear deal.
In March, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said the company would seek a waiver to continue the development of the gas field if the US decided to reimpose sanctions.
Oilprice.com poses the question – ‘When Exxon asked for a sanction waiver to continue operating in Russia, it was denied one. If a U.S. supermajor could not win a waiver, what are the chances of a non-U.S. company getting on the good side of the Treasury?’ If Total gets a waiver Exxon is not going to be very happy, especially since their former distinguished President Rex Tillerson was recently contemptuously dismissed from his post as Secretary of State by President Trump for amongst other things letting it be known last July that he thought Trump was ‘a moron’.
It is difficult to see the Trump Macron duo emerging from this dilemma without making themselves look ridiculous one way or another. Boosting China’s energy resources at the expense of Europe was not supposed to be part of the US master plan to bring Iran to its knees.