0730 GMT February 25, 2020
The update came during a visit at the end of August by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Beijing where his Chinese counterpart State Councilor Wang Yi called the two countries as “comprehensive strategic partners,” according to Press TV.
According to the Petroleum Economist, the deal represents “a potentially material shift to the global balance of the oil and gas sector” and could mark a "seismic shift in the global hydrocarbons sector” where no US dollars will be involved in commodity transaction payments.
Investment in oil, gas projects
“The central pillar of the new deal is that China will invest $280 billion in Iran's oil, gas and petrochemical sectors,” said the monthly magazine which spoke to “a senior source closely connected to Iran's Petroleum Ministry” during Zarif’s visit.
This amount may be front-loaded into the first five-year period of the deal but the understanding is that further amounts will be available in every subsequent five-year period, subject to both parties' agreement, it said.
“There will be another $120-billion investment in upgrading Iran's transport and manufacturing infrastructure, which again can be front-loaded into the first five-year period and added to in each subsequent period should both parties agree,” it added.
The Petroleum Economist has been a respected energy industry publication for decades, better known for its sophisticated analysis.
Its report follows another story last month that China had “reengaged” Iran on three key energy projects, namely Phase 11 of the South Pars Gas Field, West Karoun oilfields and the Jask oil export terminal.
The state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), one of the country’s “big three” producers, holds an 80 percent stake in South Pars Phase 11 after French major Total’s withdrawal in August 2018 in response to US unilateral sanctions.
CNPC had since made little progress in developing the flagship project, but it has agreed to step up the pace on its development after getting a 30 percent discount to the global market price on potential condensate and LNG exports, the Petroleum Economist said.
China has also agreed to increase production from Iran's West Karoun oilfields – including North Azadegan, operated by CNPC, and Yadavaran, operated by fellow “big three” firm Sinopec – by an additional 500,000 barrels per day by the end of 2020.
According to the source cited by the magazine, Iran hopes to increase projected recovery rates from the fields from a current five percent of reserves in place to at least 25 percent by the end of 2021 at the very latest.
"For every percentage point increase, the recoverable reserves figure would increase by 670 million barrels, or around $34 billion in revenues even with oil at $50 per barrel," it quoted the source as saying.
China’s close involvement in the buildout of Iran's manufacturing infrastructure will be entirely in line with its mammoth One Belt, One Road initiative, the Iranian source said.
The Asian giant intends to utilize the low-cost labor available in Iran to build factories, designed and overseen by large Chinese manufacturing companies, with identical specifications and operations to those in China.
The idea is to ship Chinese products to Western markets by using Iran’s transport infrastructure.
Beijing’s biggest transportation project in Iran is worth $1.5 billion to electrify the rail line from Tehran to Mashhad in the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi for a length of 926 kilometers.
There are also plans to establish a Tehran-Qom-Isfahan high-speed train line, connecting the capital to the central Iran, and to extend this upgraded network up to the northwest through Tabriz.
The railway is part of the 2,300-kilometer New Silk Road that will link Urumqi in China’s resource-rich Xinjiang Province to Tehran, connecting Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan along the way and extending to Europe via Turkey.
Tabriz, home to a number of key oil, gas and petrochemical and other industrial sites, and the starting point for the Tabriz-Ankara gas pipeline, will be a pivot point in the route.
Among benefits, Chinese companies will be given right of the first refusal to bid on any new, stalled or uncompleted oil and gas field developments, the report said.
Chinese firms will also have right of the first refusal on opportunities to become involved with any and all petrochemical projects in Iran, including the provision of technology, systems, process ingredients and personnel required to complete such projects.
Russia tangentially involved
The agreement includes a clause allowing at least one Russian company to have the option of being involved in the projects alongside Chinese operators, the report said.
Russia, tangentially included in the agreement, is weighing a similarly all-encompassing independent deal with Iran. In June, the two countries signed a dozen cooperation agreements covering energy, railway, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and tourism.
The agreements were signed as Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak visited Iran with a delegation of 120 businesspeople, including representatives of private and public companies.
Facing off US
According to the Petroleum Economist, one key upside of the deals flows from the fact that both China and Russia hold seats on the UN Security Council, making it difficult for the US or any other adversary to further sanction Iran.
"In order to circumvent any further ramping up of sanctions – and over time encourage the US to come back to the negotiating table – Iran now has two out of five UNSC votes on its side,” it quoted the Iranian source as saying.
Beijing has pushed back against the US, saying China's cooperation with Iran is legitimate under international law and should be "respected".
China imported more than 900,000 metric tons of crude oil from Iran in July, up more than eight percent from the month before, data released last week by China's General Administration of Customs (GAC) showed.
The imports by the world’s largest oil buyer and more importantly the increase in shipments came despite Washington’s threat to punish companies after ending waivers to unilateral sanctions on Iranian oil on May 2.
Beijing has braced for any fallout from its participation in Iranian development projects and possible faceoff with the US, the international energy website OilPrice.com said last month.
“If there is any further pushback from the US on any of these Chinese projects in Iran, then Beijing will invoke in full force the “nuclear option” of selling all or a significant part of its $1.4 trillion holding of US Treasury bills, with a major chunk of the paper due to be sold in September on this basis,” it said.