Shell Meets Iranians as Pressure Ups for Gas Deal

ROME, April 21, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Royal Dutch Shell Group PLC (RDSB) met Iranian officials about a prospective natural gas project in the country, a top oil official said Monday, just as the Islamic republic said it hoped Shell and Total SA (TOT) would commit to multibillion dollar gas deals by June.

Speaking to Dow Jones Newswires, Ali Vakili, managing director of the Pars Oil and Gas Co., which is directly negotiating on the projects, said he had met Shell Sunday here.

The statement underscored those from an official familiar with the meeting that said Shell Chief Executive Jeroen van der Veer met with Iran's energy delegation on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum here.

Shell didn't return a request for comment. Total declined to comment.

Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hussein Nozari has been losing patience with Shell and Total over the finalization of deals to develop phases 11 and 13 of the South Pars gas field and recently warned they had to respect a June deadline to sign the contracts.

But speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Rome conference, Nozari said he hoped the agreements would be clinched in June but that this was no deadline.

Although Nozari said Iran would try to reach an agreement with the two companies, he warned that if this were unsuccessful there were "many companies that can embark on the execution of the projects."

The minister didn't name which companies these could be, but didn't exclude Russia's OAO Gazprom (GAZP.RS) as one, thanks to ongoing discussions on other projects.

Recent reports have named Asian companies as likely candidates for a possible replacement of Total and Shell.

Vakili appeared to contradict the minister's statements, saying about Total: "They have to sign in June."

He said he hadn't met Total's Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie despite both men attending the same Rome conference.

Iran, which holds the world's second-largest gas reserves after Russia, plans to produce 76 million metric tons a year of liquefied natural gas by 2014, making it one of the largest gas exporters in the world.

However, Iran's LNG projects, like other hydrocarbon schemes in the country, are facing severe delays due to U.S. sanctions imposed on the country over its controversial nuclear energy program and escalating project cost.

Shell, Europe's largest oil and gas company, has delayed making a final decision on the grounds of soaring costs but also in the knowledge that a decisive move would put it in political conflict with Washington at a time of mounting tension over Tehran's uranium enrichment program.

ROME, April 21, 2008 (Dow Jones Newswires)