Q&A: Iran’s oil minister talks to Argus

Argus— Iran’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh spoke with Argus about plans to build production capacity, export ambitions, and foreign investment. He was speaking in Vienna in the wake of today’s Opec and non-Opec meeting.

NIOC released last week a plan to increase Iran’s production by 8pc, or around 300,000 b/d, by the end of the current Iranian calendar year in March 2018. How will that mesh with today’s decision to extend the Opec, non-Opec production cut agreements.

We are going to [increase]; but it is a matter of capacity. This is correct. But in terms of production and supply to the market, we are respecting the decision by Opec.

Which projects specifically will this extra capacity come from?

The Azar field, the South Pars oil layer, Yaran and South Azadegan.

In the longer run, we have heard production capacity increases of around 700,000 b/d by 2021, and more recently a target of 3mn b/d. What do you put Iran’s current target at?

The main additional output for Iran in the mid-term will come from Azadegan. Longer-term, [the 700,000 b/d target] will come later than 2021.

Do you feel from your conversations with foreign companies that the nature of the new US administration has impacted or could impact your plans to attract the needed investment?

I am receiving only positive things. I have not received any negative signal [from these companies] in recent times.

The general investment target we have been hearing about in recent years has been around $130bn for the upstream. Is that still approximately what Iran is targeting?

Step by step. I think that we are very close to a final agreement with Total for South Pars phase 11. We are very close. And then, we have some other projects under discussion with Total. But, it is still the first step, and I would prefer not to discuss those steps which are not yet finalised.”

On Total, they have shown an interest in the 10.8mn t/yr LNG export project. How are discussions progressing on that front?

Yes, Total told us [of their interest]. But, we are not awaiting Total’s decision. We are going to find and go ahead using other methods, like EPC contractors for example – some Japanese and Korean EPC contractors.

Iran has signed close to 30 initial agreements since the start of last year. You mentioned this morning that the likelihood is that most of the projects Iran is hoping to award contracts for will be done through direct negotiation, like with Total on South Pars phase 11. Which projects are the closest?

Ab-Teymour. We are in discussions with both Lukoil and Pertamina. The South Pars Oil Layer with Maersk. We are making very good progress on some projects with Wintershall. Also on some projects with Gazpromneft in the west part of the country – the Cheshme Khosh and Changuleh fields. Another priority is Azar, also with Gazpromneft. The Yaran field with Tadbir Energy, an Iranian company. We have many projects that are now under consideration, and we have allocated teams, technical and contractual teams, that are continuously discussing with these companies.

You just had a meeting with Russia’s state-owned Gazprom. Did they also discuss with you the Farzad-B field?

Yes. We have signed an initial agreement with them for Farzad, the North Pars and Kish fields.

On Iran’s export outlook, you told us earlier today that Iran’s current exports are at around 2.1mn-2.2mn b/d. Is the aim to continue to keep exports at this kind of level? Is this a level Iran is happy with?

We have a strong decision to increase the capacity of our oil production. With condensate, we are doing it. We are going to 1mn b/d [condensate production]. We are today at more than 600,000 b/d. After all the phases of South Pars that are currently under operation are producing at a stable rate, we will produce more than 700,000 b/d. And with the remaining phases of South Pars, we will reach 1mn b/d.

But with oil, we have decided to reach near 4.7mn b/d capacity. I think the Opec decision is a short-term decision, and we are thinking about the mid-term and long-term oil production capacity and production of Iran.

Our export level depends on the difference between internal consumption, or refining capacity, and our production.

Are you looking at any new markets in particular?

We are diversifying our market. We do not want to only rely on southeast Asia. Africa, Europe, including northern Europe are our targets. We want to diversify. Many of our new buyers are companies that are transporting oil to Europe, like Total, Eni or Lukoil.

The mooted agreement with Russia to supply them with 100,000 b/d of crude – can we get any details on that deal?

This is another thing. This is a deal with a Russian state-owned company. I do not know [where the oil will be going]. It is not my place to know. But I know that they will be transporting our oil and delivering it to their customers in Europe.