BASF Confirms Talks on Iran Oil & Gas

27.02.2017 -

BASF subsidiary Wintershall is in talks with the government of Iran about investing in the country’s oil and gas sector, BASF CEO Kurt Bock confirmed at the annual results press conference in Ludwigshafen, while at the same time saying the world’s largest chemical producer has no current plans to invest downstream in Iran’s petrochemical industry. On a note of caution, he told journalists that there is a danger any proposed investment could be torpedoed by renewed US sanctions.

"We are trying to assess whether it's possible for our oil and gas business to gain a foothold in Iran. We have been invited by the national authorities. The evaluation process is ongoing," Bock said. The BASF chief had acknowledged earlier that the group had been invited by Iranian authorities to become active in the country but had not confirmed any concrete plans.

Wintershall, Germany’s largest crude oil and natural gas producer, said last year it had signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) to study four onshore oil fields in western part of the country. Iranian officials have repeatedly hinted that they were in talks with Western petrochemical players, including BASF.  Last year, executives of the Ludwigshafen group as well as gases and engineering group Linde were part of a German delegation visiting Iran to sound out economic cooperation potential.

According to Bock, the extent to which the US is willing to lift sanctions against Iran due to its nuclear program has never been completely clear. "We can't see that the lifting of sanctions is being implemented at the speed that was initially expected," he said at the press conference.  Recently, the administration of new US President Donald Trump imposed fresh sanctions on 25 Iranian individuals and entities due to missile tests that Iran said were not in violation of any agreement. The sanctions also restrict companies doing business with these entities.

Hossein Alimorad, head of financial affairs at NPC, has told the Mehr news agency his company is talking to major players from France and Germany about on developing the Iranian petrochemicals sector. Along with BASF, he mentioned French oil and petrochemicals group Total. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault recently visited Tehran as head of a French economic delegation that included representatives of Total.

Alimorad said Total may build a 300,000 t/y polyethylene plant in Parsian Special Economic Zone in south Iran. The French group’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, is quoted in the Iranian press as saying it is ready to finance oil projects and transfer technology, unless sanctions intervene.

Marzieh Shahdaei, NPC's managing director, told news agencies last week that German banks have proposed to finance two of the company’s projects. If Germany's top credit provider, Euler Hermes, agrees to establish a credit line worth €100 million, it would pave the way for other investors and financial institutions to resume dealing with Iran, he said. Iran is seen as trying to attract $72 billion in foreign investment for 80 petrochemical projects that would be developed up to 2021.

Anglo-Dutch oil and petrochemicals giant Shell is also poised to move into Iran. In October 2016, it signed a letter of intent with NPC about exploring potential areas of cooperation. At the signing ceremony, Hans Nijkamp, head of Shell’s department for Iran affairs, said the group is seeking “a long-term presence” in Iran.

German gases and engineering group Linde has repeatedly been mentioned as planning projects in Iran, where its engineering division was active prior to sanctions. The group, which is preparing to merge its gases division with US rival Praxair, has not commented. Following the merger, the new gases company will be based in the US and thus be affected by any new sanctions restricting US firms; however, the engineering division will continue to be based in Germany.