Oil & Gas

Market Overview

Oil Reserves

Iran presently ranks fifth in the world in terms of proven oil reserves. Based on the latest estimations, released in 2001, it holds 96.4 billion barrels of oil. However, up until very recently, there was virtually no exploration activity for 30 years. Now with the new emphasis on boosting crude production, huge oil reserves have been discovered, such as the Azadegan fields, which contain up to 24 billion barrels and have a potential production capacity of 300,000-400,000 barrels per day (bpd).

The vast majority of Iran's crude oil reserves are found in giant onshore fields in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, near the Iraqi border and the Persian Gulf. Over half of Iran's 40 significant active fields contain over one billion barrels of oil each and the onshore reservoirs at Ahvaz, Marun, Gachsaran, Agha Jari, and Bibi Hakimeh together account for about two-thirds of Iran's total oil production. Most of the crude oil is low in sulfur and light, with gravity in the 30o-39o API range.


The eight years of war with Iraq war severely affected Iran’s oil production, particularly so since the much of the fighting took place in Khuzestan province. As a result, Iran's production capacity fell from over 5 million bpd in the late 1970's to about 3-3.5 million bpd a decade later. The losses during the war were exacerbated by a decreased rate of investment in the industry as the country focused on fighting an already economically crippling war. In the mid-1990's, increased investment and the reconstruction of several damaged installations raised production capacity to roughly 3.6 million bpd.

Things have improved recently with some more projects coming on-stream. Official production figures range from between 3.8 and 4.2 million bpd, depending on the source. According to the US Department of Energy, Iran produced 3.9 million bpd in the first seven months of 2001, or close to 100,000 bpd more than its average output for 2000. The same source estimates Iran's current sustainable crude oil production capacity at around 3.9 million. This is while in his latest address in front of an international conference in Oman in April 2002, Petroleum Minister Zanganeh claimed that Iran is now able to produce 4.2 million barrels a day. Regardless, Iran still falls far short of its pre-revolution capacity; in 1974, the country produced 6 million bpd.

According to the Third Five-Year Plan (started March 2000), Iran’s objective is to reach the 5 million bpd mark by 2005. However, judging by the state of the projects that are underway, actually reaching this figure seems unlikely. All the same, to achieve these results, Iran aims to double foreign investment in the hydrocarbons sector (currently $12 billion) over the next four years. Its production plans for 2020 are even more ambitious, as the country expects to produce 8 million bpd by that year.

Some analysts believe that during the war with Iraq, Iran maintained oil production in some of its older fields though methods that might have damaged the fields permanently. Today, according to Petroleum Minister Zanganeh, Iran is experiencing a depletion rate of 250,000 to 300,000 bpd, on an annual basis.

Consumption & Export

In addition to the declining production capacity, the rising domestic demand – a result of population growth, urbanization, and industrialization – has accounted for a considerable reduction in Iran’s ability to export crude oil. With domestic consumption at around 1.2 million bpd, Iran can currently export around 2.7 million bpd (though this figure alters with OPEC production quotas).

The country’s consumption of hydrocarbon resources is unrealistically high because the government subsidizes oil products for the domestic market as a means to redistribute some of the oil wealth directly to the people. A liter of petrol, for example, currently costs Rials 500 (almost 6 cents at the TSE exchange rate). The cost of these subsidies is an immense burden on the national budget, and past attempts to remove them have faced obstacles due to their inflationary effects on the economy. However, a measured subsidy cut in recent years has increased prices by an average of 30 to 40% per year.

Refining and Transportation

As of January 2001, Iran had nine operational refineries with a combined capacity of 1.48 million bpd, which falls short of domestic consumption levels. Iran has been importing more and more refined products since 1982. To help curb these imports, the government is aiming to boost refining capacity to 2 million bpd, while simultaneously launching an extensive campaign urging the public to curb consumption. Two planned refineries include a 225,000 bpd plant at Chahbahar and a 120,000 bpd unit on Qeshm Island. The $3 billion Chahbahar project was approved in late 1994 and will be financed by private investors.

Iran exports crude oil via four main terminals -- Kharg Island (by far the largest), Lavan Island, Sirri Island, and Ras Bahregan. Refined products are exported via the Abadan and Bandar Mahshahr terminals. Many Iranian oil export terminals were damaged during the Iran-Iraq War, but all have been rebuilt. The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) operates the largest oil tanker fleet within OPEC, with 25 ships.

Oil Summary Sheet

Proven Reserves (billion barrels)


Production Capacity (million bpd)

3.8 - 4.0

Exports (million bpd)

2.2 - 2.7

Number of Refineries


Refinery Capacity (million bpd)


Total Pipeline Network (km)


Number of Major Crude Oil Terminals


Approx. Capacity of Terminals (million bpd)



Gas Reserves

Iran has an estimated 26 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of natural gas reserves - the second largest in the world after Russia. The bulk of Iranian gas reserves are located in non-associated fields, though in the past, the country has not focused on the development of these fields. Despite the fact Iran holds more than 15.5% of the world’s natural gas, the exploitation of its oil reserves was the government’s top priority. Although in the past, the production of gas has generally been targeted towards supplying gas-injected oil fields, Iranian authorities now have two additional goals. Their first is to replace the domestic consumption of oil with gas in order to have more crude available for export; the second aim is to become a major gas exporter by the year 2005. A number of projects are currently underway to create more opportunities to export natural gas. Regarding domestic consumption, the government has initiated nationwide programs to make natural gas the main source of energy for household and industrial consumption, thereby increasing domestic use considerably over the past few years.

With estimated reserves of 13 tcm of gas and 17 million barrels of condensates, South Pars is Iran’s largest non-associated gas field. Its development constitutes Iran’s largest energy project to date, and has attracted nearly $20 billion in investment. North Pars is the second largest field in the country, with 1.4 trillion m³ of natural gas. Other main unassociated gas fields include: Kangan, Sarakhs, Nar, Dalan, Aghar, Kangiran, Souther Gashoo, Sarkhoun, Kabir Kouh, and Tang-e-Bijar. The newly discovered Tabnak and Homa fields hold an estimated reserve of 445 and 133 billion cubic meters of gas, respectively.

Production and Consumption
Natural gas accounted for 15.5% of the energy growth in Iran between 1989 to 1999, while the comparative figure for oil products was a mere 2.5%. Iran’s energy policy has focused on the development and expansion of gas in both the up- and downstream sectors for the past few years. However, the fact remains that at present, given the lack of development and long distances between gas supplies and consumption centers, Iran’s share of the global gas trade has been very low.

During the first half of the Iranian year 1380 (began 20 March 2001), Iran's domestic gas consumption stood at 185 million cubic meters daily. The figure for the previous Iranian year was 178 million cubic meters a day. So far, 1,400,000 families in 384 cities use gas as their main fuel source. Between March and October 2001, domestic power plants, trade-household and industries respectively consumed 38.1%, 33.4% and 28.5% of the total supplied gas.

Iran’s production of natural gas is 300 million cubic meters a day, according to April 2002 figures. Domestic consumption accounts for 53 billion cubic meters of the total.

Today, natural gas comprises 42% of Iran’s energy basket; the MoP plans to increase that figure to 55% by 2005.

Gas Trade
Over the past several years, Iran has doubled its efforts to export natural gas and has planned several pipeline projects, though the only one that is currently operational supplies Turkey. Iran is scheduled to export 4 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey in 2002; a figure that is supposed to gradually rise to 10 bcm per year, over the next five years.

Iran is also planning to expand its natural gas exports via pipelines to Europe via Turkey and Greece, and also to Pakistan and India.

Iran is also planning to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) and gas-to-liquid (GtL) plants in order to be able to export gas via tankers. It’s LNG plans include four feasibility-technical studies contracts, each with an annual output capacity of eight million tons (or 10 bcm a year).

Nevertheless, Iran imports natural gas from Turkmenistan and is discussing doing so from Azerbaijan. Doing so makes sense given the fact that most of Iran’s gas reserves are in the south, while the majority of the population is clustered in the north of the country. Moreover, the country has plans on becoming a regional energy hub.

Gas Summary Sheet

Proven Reserves (trillion m³)


% of World Total


Growth in Domestic Demand Over Last Decade (%)


Number of Refineries


Refinery Capacity (billion m³/day)


Total Pipeline Network in 2000 (km)



Structure of the Oil & Gas Industry

Ministry of Petroleum

The oil and gas sector in Iran operates under the full supervision of the Ministry of Petroleum (MoP), which covers a myriad of activities such as exploration, engineering and construction, refining, transportation, distribution, services and research.

The MoP has four main subsidiary companies: the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC); National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC); National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company (NIORDC); and the National Iranian Petrochemical Company (NPC). The figure overleaf depicts the ministry’s structure and identifies the key figures.

The ministry has a 100,000-strong work force, two-thirds of whom are blue-collar workers and the rest white-collar professionals. The Oil Act of 1987 placed all oil-related operations under government authority and specifies the MoP’s functions. In summary, its main responsibilities include:

Assuring proper management of oil and gas reserves;

Enhancing local relevant technical know-how with the ultimate objective of achieving self-sufficiency and independence from foreign expertise;

Supervising the oil, natural gas, refinery and petrochemical industries and managing relevant activities;

Executive planning of major projects and allocation of necessary financing for capital investments and operations;

Supervising all companies under the MoP and their relevant subsidiaries;

Representing Iran in international petroleum associations and global energy markets.

National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC)

The most important company affiliated to the Petroleum Ministry is the National Iranian Oil Company. NIOC is in charge of all operations that relate to the exploration, production, and transport of oil and gas in the country. In short, it produces crude oil from Iran’s on and offshore fields to meet the energy requirements of domestic industries and other sectors, and also exports oil as the nation’s primary source of hard currency earnings.

Through its subsidiaries, NIOC also owns an ever-growing tanker fleet, offers support services for the oil industry, and provides technical training of personnel.

NIOC ‘s subordinate companies are essentially divided into regional and functional companies. The six regional companies are:

Iranian Central Oil Fields Company (ICOF Co.) supervises all upstream activities in the central oil and gas regions of the country, i.e. everything, excluding the oil-rich southern Khuzestan province, Caspian and offshore.

National Iranian South Oil Company (NISOC) focuses on onshore upstream activity in the province of Khuzestan. As Khuzestan is the main oil and gas-producing province, this entity is among the most significant in the NIOC family.

Khazar Exploration & Production Company (KEPCO) is in charge of onshore and offshore activity in the Caspian region.

Iranian Offshore Oil Company (IOOC) supervises production activity in the Persian Gulf offshore oil and gas fields with the exception of South Pars. It focuses mainly on production platforms, ancillary facilities, and installations. Given that Iran is placing emphasis on signing offshore agreements with foreign firms, this entity has special importance.

Pars Oil & Gas Company (POGC) is in charge of awarding the contracts for the different phases of the South Pars development project.

Oil Exploration Services Company (OESC) was founded in 1998 and is responsible for providing operational services in all facets of exploration and production activities within NIOC onshore regions.

The main functional companies include:
Petroleum Development & Engineering Company (PEDEC) is the most important NIOC offshoot company. The responsibility for all buy-back projects under operation, study or negotiation has been given to PEDEC. This company enjoys full authority to manage the projects.

National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), whose main function is to export crude oil and provide services to oil platforms. Presently, NITC’s tanker fleet is the largest of all the OPEC and the Middle Eastern countries. In line with the privatization plan, the MoP decided to concede NITC and NIDC to the private sector. However, this plan is experiencing some delays.

National Iranian Drilling Company (NIDC) is entrusted with the operation and implementation of all offshore and onshore drilling activities. It was formerly a monopoly of foreign multinational companies. The Ministry of Petroleum recently announced that NIDC would join the private sector soon, as part of the Third Five-Year Plan’s objectives.

Oil Industry Investment Company (OIIC) is a leading corporation in the sector, whose major goal is to create and invest in industries mainly related to oil.

Ahvaz Pipe Mills (APM) has nearly 30 years of experience in manufacturing oil and gas pipes and has a capacity of up to 420,000 tons per year. It operates three plants.

Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction Company (IOEC) is a general contractor in offshore oil and gas projects.

Oil Export Terminals Company manages all export and loading operations of crude oil from Kharg Terminal.

Pars Special Economic-Energy Zone Company was established in 1998 in order to handle and organize all activities in the Pars Special Economic-Energy Zone, located near the South Pars gas field.

National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC)

NIGC is responsible for the treatment, transmission, and delivery of natural gas to the domestic, industrial and commercial sectors and power generation plants. It does not play a role in awarding upstream gas projects; that task remains in the hands of the NIOC.

National Petrochemical Company (NPC)

The National Petrochemical Company is a state-owned organization responsible for the operation and development of the country’s petrochemical industry. Founded in 1964, NPC began its activities by operating a small fertilizer plant. Today, it is the second largest producer and exporter of petrochemicals in the Middle East. Not only has the company expanded the range and volume of its products, but it has also acquired the experience and expertise to provide technical, design and engineering services throughout the petrochemical industry.

NPC’s major activities are the production, sale, distribution and export of chemicals and petrochemicals. It operates as a mother company and handles policymaking, planning, directing and overseeing the activities of its numerous subsidiaries and affiliates.

NPC has 9 productive subsidiary companies, and 5 subsidiaries providing technical, financial, trade, and specialist services.

It also has seven newly established companies to implement its projects.

National Iranian Oil Refining & Distribution Company (NIORDC)

As a result of the new structure of the Ministry of Petroleum, and in order to divide the responsibilities of downstream from upstream and speed up Iran’s refining and distribution processes, NIORDC was established in 1992. This company was given many duties including the transfer of crude oil to local refineries and export points, setting up new refineries, and initiating oil projects. It also equipped the ministry’s industrial and administrative centers with telecommunication networks.

Quasi-Governmental Companies

A number of quasi-governmental companies often act as the main local partner with foreign oil companies, in that NIOC awards a project to these firms who are then free to take on international partners.

The main companies in this category include:

Petro Iran Development Company of Iran (PEDCO or Petro Iran) was established in October 1998 and is still evolving as a new entity within the oil sector. Petro Iran was initially formed to be the Iranian partner of foreign contractors with a 10% share in each buy-back contract.

Oil Industries Engineering & Construction Company (OIEC) was established in 1987 as a private joint-stock engineering and construction company, whose founders consisted of real and legal entities. The main objective of OIEC was to implement oil, gas and petrochemicals projects from the initial study stage through to project launching and delivery.

Petropars acts as a managing contractor by supervising the subcontractors. The company also undertakes infrastructure projects on an Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) basis

The Private Sector

Although usually neglected and overlooked, Iran also has a number of very active private companies in the oil sector. The growing private sector activity is mainly active in projects involving the construction of oil field units, refinery equipment, tanks and pipelines, as well as engineering.

Project Opportunities

In the early 1990's, Iranian authorities realized the main bottlenecks in the development of the oil sector and in the First, Second and Third Five-Year Plans defined ambitious goals for the enhancement of crude oil production. However, the plans were not realized for many reasons, mainly due to a lack of capital and technology.

For this reason, in 1995, officials in the oil industry decided to open a number of projects to foreign participation, from which they hoped to direct necessary capital and technology into the sector. A prerequisite for this move was to receive parliamentary approval since there were clear obstacles created by the Iranian Constitution on this issue. The compromise formula was found in the notion of "buy-back agreements," which were defined as a "form of financing" and not "foreign investment."

In fact, the buy-back agreements put forward by the Iranian authorities underline the role of the foreign companies as providers of technology. In these types of agreements, the foreign party undertakes the initial investment and subsequently recovers its investment through exploitation of the project’s final product (crude oil, gas, or refined products).

The buy-back contract was designed to ensure Iran’s sovereignty over and ownership of its oil and gas resources. The contract attempts to achieve the following major goals:

Transfer of technology;

Contractor’s short term presence in oil and gas field development projects;

Full control and close supervision of NIOC on the schedule and costs;

Lower costs compared to other contracts commonly used in oil industries;

Maximum use of domestic engineering, technical and executive capabilities in order to promote the quality of domestic sources and prevent the outflow of foreign currency.

NIOC’s new strategy to attract foreign investment has been accompanied by a political twist. The first such buy-back project was awarded to the US company Conoco in early 1995. While Iran's intention was a goodwill gesture towards the United States, the move backfired and the events that followed led to the deterioration of relations between the two sides. The Clinton administration imposed economic sanctions on Iran in 1995, and the US Congress followed the executive directive with the notorious Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) in 1996.

Iran was quick to award the original Conoco deal to France’s Total, to maintain the momentum of the new policy. Though ILSA did not stop European companies from negotiating with Iran on the tendered projects, it undoubtedly has inhibited the process of foreign participation in Iran's oil sector. Only two out of the ten projects remaining from the original list of proposals were signed in 1997 (one with Bow Valley and the other with a consortium including TotalFinaElf, Petronas of Malaysia and Gazprom of Russia).

However, the June 1998 waiver by the US administration on sanctions against non-US companies that invest in Iran is so far the most significant related development to encourage those companies to consider the Islamic Republic as an option for investment. The fact that Royal Dutch Shell signed a major buy-back agreement with Iran in 1999 to develop the Soroush and Nowruz fields is testament to this fact.

Once Iranian authorities saw that considerable foreign investment would be required over the next decade, in early 1998, they announced that a list of 100 projects would be offered to foreign companies, including some sensitive onshore fields and other untapped fields. This statement clearly required parliamentary approval, and in the interim, the figure was lowered to 40 projects.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The essential meaning of the word ‘buy-back’ in the oil and gas sector is a service contract in which one or more parties are contracted by the Ministry of Petroleum (NIOC, NIGC) to carry out necessary development or rehabilitation related work on a field, which once completed, reverts wholly under the management of the Ministry.

The main features of buy-back contracts can be summarized as follows:

The companies, acting essentially as “contractors,” provide all the capital required to finance a specific development or rehabilitation project.

The “contractors” are paid back the capital expenditures and associated cost of financing plus an agreed upon profit over a specified period, usually 3-6 years from the date of the first production, from up to 65% of the field’s output. Accordingly, NIOC takes all the risks associated with oil price fluctuations.

The profit or rate of return on investment varies from project to project, but has recently been between 15 and 20%.

The contractors’ profits are paid in equal installments throughout an agreed amortization period.

The contractors have no further interest in the field after all their costs are recovered at the end of the amortization period.

NIOC takes over the operation of the field upon the commencement of production and is responsible for the operating costs.

The “contractors” have no equity stake in the field.

The buy-back projects have a number of advantages for the international oil companies. There are virtually no risks as the development projects involve proven oil and gas reserves, and the international contractors are paid back from the production stream revenue with the risks associated with volatile prices transferred completely to NIOC. The contracts have government guarantees that ensure the in-time payments to the contractors. Terms of contracts are clear with defined exposure as they involve a ceiling on expenditure with only 10 percent contingency reserve.

However, the international oil companies are concerned with a number of issues regarding buy-back contracts. Their main concern is that under the buy-back contracts oil and gas reserves are not bookable, which means that they are not able to show the serves on their balance sheets. Secondly, they argue that due to the short-term nature of the contracts, they are not able to benefit from the long-term incremental growth of the fields. Moreover, some companies argue that they need to engage in a succession of such short-term projects to ensure a profitable position in Iran.

As far as NIOC is concerned, the buy-back contracts have the advantage of providing an inflow of capital, access to the latest technology in exploration and field development/rehabilitation practices, and personnel training opportunities. They are within the country’s constitutional framework and enable the NIOC to have control over the operations. However, there is recognition that asa result of the short-term nature of these contracts, there is no incentive on the part of the foreign companies for the transfer of technology on an on-going basis, as well as for taking measures to maximize the life of the field or to reduce costs.

Moreover, there are three other disadvantages for Iran. First, the contractors do not share the risks. Secondly, there is no transfer of managerial skills to NIOC. Finally, NIOC is responsible for the costs of operating the fields. In view of these shortcomings, Iran witnesses presently the evolution of a more flexible and long-term contractual relationship that will be beneficial to both sides, within the general framework of the buy-back arrangements.

Amongst all oil companies that have engaged in buy-back transactions, the only company that has finished a buy-back cycle is TotalFinaElf (Sirri A & E). Their contract on Sirri was very different to the currently applied version of buy-back contracts. Therefore,TotalFinaElf had an easier ride than other companies that have signed contracts since. For example, in TotalFinaElf’s Sirri contract there was no penalty for not achieving the targeted production capacity.

The targeted production capacity at the end of the project was 120k bpd; however the achieved capacity is only 90k bpd. As a result, Iran is trying to reduce the agreed service payment to TotalFinaElf; however, this would be outside the contractual agreement, as the initial contract did not have such a clause (the new contracts foresee penalties for failure to achieve the targeted capacity).

Key Projects

The details of the projects and conditions were announced at a conference in London in July 1998. The key projects include:

The Bangestan oil field around Ahvaz in Khuzestan province, which is one of the largest onshore fields in Iran.

The Darkhovin oil field, which contains 2.5 billion barrels of low sulfur, 39° API crude oil. The onshore field is located in southwestern Iran, 45 kilometers northeast of the city of Abadan. Italy's Eni has carried out technical studies on this field. In 2001, Eni was announced the winner of the tender. Eni (60%) is working together with Iran’s Naftiran Inter-trade Company (NICO).

The Shour field, close to the giant Gachsaran field in Khuzestan. This is the most recent major discovery in Iran, with an estimated in-place reserve of 1 billion barrels. It is a complex structure with recoverable reserves of 100 to 150 million barrels. Three wells were drilled in 1996 and that year it produced some 25,000 bpd.

The Kuhi Mand field, which contains heavy and extra heavy oil of 14° to 18° API. Discovered by British Petroleum (BP) in the 1970's, it is one of the country's larger fields.

Exploration work on a number of onshore blocks close to the Iran-Iraq border have started. OMV is carrying out exploration on the Mehr block and Khuzestan, and (being carried out by OMV) and Norsk Hydro is doing work on the Anaran block in Ilam.

The Shanul natural gas field with reserves estimated at 171 to 285 billion cubic meters of gas and 80 to 100 million barrels of condensate.

Petropars won phases 6, 7, and 8 of the South Pars project and is currently deciding on potential subcontractors. Contracts for South Pars Phases 9-12, and its oil layer, should be signed soon. The oil layer holds 10 billion barrels.

North Pars gas field with reserves of 1.4 trillion cubic meters. The gas from this field is intended for re-injection in Gachsaran, Agha Jari and Bibi Hakimeh oil fields.

Exploration and development of several smaller onshore fields close to the Iran-Turkmenistan border, including Kopet-Dagh and Gorgan.

A number of smaller fields in the provinces of Ilam and Fars, including Sarvestan and Saadatabad.

Five offshore blocks in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Esfandiar off shore oil field.

Offshore structures near the disputed island of Abu Musa and the maritime border with United Arab Emirates.

The offshore oil exploration in the Caspian Sea by Shell and Lasmo with gas reserves estimated at 565 billion cubic meters. The exploration is complete.

In addition to the above upstream projects, NIOC also offered a number of downstream projects, especially in the construction of oil refineries, LNG plants, and gas export pipelines.

These plans tend to be very attractive to foreign companies; however it is clear that NIOC has chosen to take the route of gradually integrating such firms into the Iranian oil industry. While the initial projects tendered were mainly offshore fields, the more recent include fields and projects around the country’s regions. This will guarantee that the foreign companies will come in touch with the Iranian public slowly.

This trend is fully reflected in the contracts that have been signed in the meantime. Up until the summer of 2001, when Eni won a bid for Darkhovin, foreign companies had only won tenders for developing offshore projects.

In order to achieve all the targets set for the next decade, and especially to remain a major oil exporter, Iran’s oil sector requires annual investments of $10 billion, a large proportion of which has to come from foreign companies. As such, in the last Iranian year (ended 20 March 2002) the government budgeted up to $3.5 billion in foreign financing for the oil and gas sectors.

Upstream Supply Industry

Limitation on Selling Equipment & Products
The domestic manufacturers’ lobby – notably the Association of Iranian Oil Industry Equipment Manufacturers – has also been successful in limiting the importation of certain oil industry equipment.

Recent comments by oil industry officials suggest that the government has a large-scale plan to support domestic manufacturers of oil equipment. Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh on 22 April 2002 announced that his ministry would longer import select oil industry equipment, including high-pressure and seamed pipes as well as spare parts for drilling hardware, turbines and compressors equipment.

Despite these limitations, and the fact that the MoP tries to award contracts to indigenous companies when possible, and to minimize imports, the NIOC does purchase hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods on an annual basis.


Kala Naft, which is based in London, is in charge of carrying out the procurement needs of the NIOC. Kala is essentially the Iranian oil industry’s main buying arm, both in the upstream and downstream, and including both the NIOC and NIDC; however, the mentioned organizations can in theory also purchase directly from suppliers.
Companies need to register with Kala before they will be requested to submit a quote for work. It has been known for Kala to directly approach select companies itself, though foreign firms could also introduce themselves to that organization as well.


The annual “Arab Oil and Gas Directory” provides a full list of Iranian suppliers to the oil and gas industry. Select contractors include:

Iranian Offshore Engineering & Construction Company (IOEC)

Petrochemical Industries Erection & Construction Company (ECC)

Shaid Shah Abadani Industries Company (SANAM)

Kalayeh Naft Company

Nargan Consulting Engineers

Afaq Ghadeer Engineering Company

Market Access Issues

Iran prohibits legal ownership of oil and gas fields by foreign entities as per article 81 of its Constitution, which clearly states: “The granting of concessions to foreigners for the formation of companies or institutions dealing with commerce, industry, agriculture, services or mineral extraction, is absolutely forbidden.”

At the same time, however, Iran faces a lack of financing and technical know-how to implement all the necessary projects on its own. NIOC, therefore, proposed to establish the buy-back contracts, which was approved by the government and the Majles (parliament). Note 29 of the First Five-Year Plan enables the government to use the contracts as a means of partially meeting the country’s industrial and mineral needs in connection with exports, production and investment. Note 22 of the Second Five-Year Plan has empowered the government to enter into buy-back contracts through the country’s banking system in order to support sub-structural projects and increase the export oriented production capacity of Iran.

The Oil Act of 1987 placed all oil-related operations under government authority and specified the MoP's functions. As a result, Iran's oil and gas sector is heavily controlled by the state. Although following recent moves and a restructuring plan some of the entities have been privatized, the key companies remain government-controlled.

Following the government’s decision to apply buy-back deals for oil contracts, a law was approved to ensure maximum use of the country’s potential in engineering, technical, production, industrial and executive areas in different stages of projects. The law additionally calls for providing facilities to export domestic services. Therefore, all organizations, ministries and companies affiliated to the government are obliged to refer the projects’ consultative engineering, contractor, construction, equipment and installation services only to domestic institutes.

It is only with the approval of the High Economic Council and through partnership with Iranian companies under the condition of at least 51% share for the Iranian party, that the projects can be offered to foreign companies.

However so far, due to resource implications and domestic firms’ lack of the required financial and technical facilities, the share of those companies in different buy-back projects has always been below the 51% threshold. For instance in the Balal project, which involves TotalFinaElf and was one of the first buy-back deals, the domestic share is only 20%. Nevertheless, the Iranian presence in oil and gas projects has increased in each subsequent contract, and in the fourth and fifth phase of the South Pars gas project, 40% of the specialists were Iranian.

The Masjed Soleiman development contract, which was signed by Canada’s Sheer Energy and Iranian Naftgaran Engineering Services Company in March 2002, had the highest Iranian content in a project to date. The Iranian partner is expected to have at least 50%.

Due to their rising level of technical knowledge and expertise, in addition to other favorable factors such as lower costs and familiarity with the Iranian oil and gas industries, it is expected that domestic companies will play an increasingly active role in future oil and gas projects. A number of other significant factors include:

Parliament is putting pressure on the Ministry of Petroleum to increase local content;

In the past few years Iran’s coffers have been filled and its credit rating greatly improved thanks to high global oil prices. As such, it is much less dependent on foreign oil companies for the financing of projects;

As an ever increasing number of foreign firms are looking to invest in Iran, the country stands on firmer ground and does not need to be as flexible as before about its requirements, such as including a high proportion of local content in the contracts;

Given the current trend, the input of local entities in Iranian oil and gas contracts is expected to increase with time, making it more important for foreign firms to know the Iranian companies active in this sector and recognize their capabilities.

Data as of June 2002

© Atieh Bahar Consulting 2003