France’s Total has officially left Iran: oil minister

French energy giant Total has lit out of phase 11 of the South Pars multi-billion-dollar gas project in Iran. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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France’s Total has officially left Iran: oil minister

  • Total said it would be impossible to remain in Iran unless it received a specific waiver from Washington, which was not granted
  • Total would have been highly vulnerable to US penalties for remaining in Iran
TEHRAN: French energy giant Total has officially quit its multi-billion-dollar gas project in Iran, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on Monday, following the reimposition of US sanctions.
“Total has officially left the agreement for the development of phase 11 of South Pars (gas field). It has been more than two months that it announced that it would leave the contract,” he told parliament’s news agency ICANA.
Zanganeh also appeared before parliament to underline the dire state of Iran’s oil and gas facilities, which he said were “worn out” and in need of renovation that Iran could not afford.
The United States said in May that it was abandoning the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions on Iran in two phases in August and November.
The second phase will target Iran’s oil industry.
The other parties to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have vowed to stay in the accord but their companies risk huge penalties if they keep doing business in Iran.
Total had already said it would be impossible to remain in Iran unless it received a specific waiver from Washington, which was not granted.
Total signed up in July 2017 for the $4.8 billion project to develop the field off Iran’s southern coast, as the lead partner alongside the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Iran’s Petropars.
It was due to make an initial $1 billion investment, but the company said in May that it had spent less than €40 million on the project to date, as uncertainty over US actions mounted.
Total would have been highly vulnerable to US penalties for remaining in Iran.
The company has $10 billion of capital employed in its US assets, and US banks are involved in 90 percent of its financing operations, Total said in May.
It remains unclear whether CNPC will take over Total’s stake in the project.
Iran remains wary of relying on Chinese firms after bad experiences in the past. A previous contract for CNPC to develop the field at South Pars was suspended in 2011 after it failed to make progress.
The urgent need for investment to upgrade Iran’s dilapidated energy infrastructure was a key motivator behind its decision to join the 2015 nuclear deal.
Zanganeh appeared in parliament on Monday to answer questions on safety concerns following a number of recent fires at refineries.
“A big part of the oil industry has been worn out and the necessary renovation has not taken place,” he told parliament, according to the official IRNA news agency.
He said there were 10 cases per day of tubes perforating in Iran’s southern facilities, and that some refineries were as much as 80 years old, “whereas the useful life of an industrial unit is 30 years.”
“We have no resources for renovating them,” he added.


Russia's Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela's PDVSA - source

Updated 17 February 2019
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Russia's Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela's PDVSA - source

MOSCOW: Russian lender Gazprombank has decided to freeze the accounts of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and halted transactions with the firm to reduce the risk of the bank falling under U.S. sanctions, a Gazprombank source told Reuters on Sunday.

While many foreign firms have been cutting their exposure to PDVSA since the sanctions were imposed, the fact that a lender closely aligned with the Russian state is following suit is significant because the Kremlin has been among Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s staunchest supporters.

“PDVSA’s accounts are currently frozen. As you’ll understand, operations cannot be carried out,” the source said. Gazprombank did not reply to a Reuters request for a comment.

PDVSA brandished the story as “fake news” on its Twitter account in capital red letters, but did not reply to a request for comment.

Reuters reported this month that PDVSA was telling customers of its joint ventures to deposit oil sales proceeds in its Gazprombank accounts, according to sources and an internal document, in a move to try to sideline fresh U.S. sanctions on PDVSA.

Washington says the sanctions, imposed on Jan. 28, are aimed at blocking Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue after opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president and received widespread Western support.

Gazprombank is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom.

The bank has held PDVSA accounts for several years. In 2013, PDVSA said it signed a deal with Gazprombank for $1 billion (£774 million) in financing for the Petrozamora company. The source said that Petrozamora accounts were frozen, too.

Russian officials have said they stand by Maduro and have condemned opposition actions as a U.S.-inspired ploy to usurp power in Caracas.

But Russian firms find themselves in a quandary, caught between a desire to endorse the Kremlin line and back Maduro, and the fear that by doing so they could expose themselves to secondary U.S. sanctions which would harm their businesses.