European Companies Rushed to Invest in Iran. What Now?

“It is going to be hard to get people on board,” said Richard Nephew, a former State Department official who was the lead sanctions expert in the Iran negotiations under President Barack Obama and who successfully persuaded other customers of Iran to stop buying its oil in the years leading up to the eventual nuclear deal.

Mr. Nephew, now a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, forecast that of Iran’s major customers, Japan and South Korea would most likely cooperate on sanctions because they are worried about Washington’s negotiations with North Korea.

He said European customers, however, would probably be slower to come around. And China and India, which in some months have been buying more than 1 million barrels a day from Iran, may continue to buy Iranian crude in the same quantities.

European Companies Rushed to Invest in Iran. What Now?
European Companies Rushed to Invest in Iran. What Now?

All told, the impact of renewed sanctions would be an estimated loss of 300,000 to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian exports, Mr. Nephew said. That would be a significant amount, but much less than the 1.4 million barrels a day or so that Mr. Obama’s sanctions achieved.

In the meantime, Iran is running its oil industry at full tilt, analysts say. “It is obvious that they are anticipating potential new sanctions and running full speed before it happens,” said Antoine Rostand, president of Kayrros, a Paris-based market research firm.

But the sanctions would nonetheless create major complications. Iran has quickly pumped up oil production in existing fields, but these will eventually become tapped out. It won’t be able to bring new fields online without partners and capital.

Still, giant oil corporations have not given up on Iran.

“We continue to be interested in exploring the role Shell can play in developing Iran’s energy potential within the boundaries of applicable laws,” Royal Dutch Shell said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

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