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Will This Foreign Oil Giant Grab Iran's First Post-Sanctions Project?

Offshore

Iran's newly-opened oil patch continues to gain momentum. With the UAE's Emirates National Oil Company saying this week it has paid $4 billion to Iran to settle a tab for crude, built up during the sanctions period.

And the coming weeks may bring an even bigger development for this emerging oil hotspot. The award of Iran's first post-sanctions petroleum contract -- representing the first-ever occasion in modern times that projects here will be available on global-scale commercial terms.

The CEO of National Iranian Oil Company, Ali Kardor, said early this week that the government will soon issue its first project tender. For the Azadegan oil field, located near Iran's border with Iraq.

Kardor noted the tender for Azadegan will be released by June 2 -- with 29 pre-qualified companies reportedly invited to bid.

Iran's oil minister Bijan Zanganeh confirmed the tender. Saying his ministry is finalizing a contract for development of Azadegan, under the new petroleum model hammered out by lawmakers over the past year.

The prize here is big. With Azadegan containing an estimated 33 to 42 billion barrels of oil in place -- and 6 billion likely recoverable. Making this one of the largest projects to come on offer globally in recent years. Related: The Big Data Revolution In Oil Is Accelerating

That will draw significant interest from firms around the world. With majors from Europe, Asia, and Russia all having signaled their intention to pursue projects in Iran.

One of the leaders may be a firm that already has experience with Azadegan -- Japan's Inpex. With that company having operated the field between 2004 and 2010, before pulling out due to Japanese sanctions.

Inpex officials said the company is "gathering information" on the tender, as it considers a bid.

Whoever grabs this mega-field, the tender would be a big step forward for Iran's government. With President Hassan Rouhani having struggled to get the country's new petro contract model accepted by lawmakers -- but apparently now having support for the measure after his recent election win.

Oil minister Zanganeh said he hopes to have the Azadegan contract signed off by July. Watch over the coming weeks to see if the bid round gets done, and who the winner will be.

Here's to the journey beginning with a step,

By Dave Forest

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