Iran Expected to Award Azadegan Contract in mid-2004

Iran is expected to award the contract for the development of the Azadegan oil field by the second or third quarter of 2004, a senior Iranian oil official said Monday. Mehdi Mirmoezzi, National Iranian Oil Co.'s general manager, said the result of a limited international tender on the Azadegan project will be announced in the first six months of the next Iranian year, which starts March 21, 2004.

NIOC has invited companies from France, the Netherlands, Norway, China and India to submit bids for the development of the oil field, one of the world's largest undeveloped fields, with an estimated 26 billion barrels of crude oil, said Mirmoezzi, who is also deputy oil minister.

Japan from the year 2000 until last month held exclusive negotiating rights on the field, but Iran has invited other companies to bid since U.S. pressure on Japan not to invest in Iran caused delays in signing the estimated $2.8-billion deal on the field.

The state-led Japanese consortium is still bidding for the contract, but it has lost its exclusive rights.

Turning to the contract for the development of Iran's large Bangestan oil field, Mirmoezzi said the Oil Ministry is in final stages of talks with two companies over the contract for the field, which when operational is expected to produce 400,000 barrels a day. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh previously said these two companies are Total and BP.

"We hope to conclude these negotiations by the end of October and announce the result by March 2004," Mirmoezzi told reporters on the Persian Gulf island of Qeshm, where he was attending Shell's launch of four oil platforms that will develop the Soroush and Norouz oil fields.

Mirmoezzi said the contracts for the development of the oil layer of the South Pars natural gas field would be announced in three months' time. He wouldn't say which companies are bidding for the contract. However, due to the complexities involved, NIOC may carry out the development itself if no deal can be hammered out with companies bidding for the project, he added.