Iran signs US$1.5 billion deal with local consortium

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Iran has signed a contract worth US$1.5 billion with a consortium of local firms to develop the third phase of the south-western Darkhovin oil field, Oil Ministry website SHANA reported.

Iranian energy officials said last year they were in talks with Italy's Eni on developing the phase but the Italian firm told US authorities in April 2010 it was handing the operation of Darkhovin to local partners to avoid US sanctions.

"The contract to develop the third phase of Darkhovin with the aim of producing 71,000 barrels of crude oil per day (bpd) was signed with local firms," SHANA reported.

The field, located in the Khuzestan province, contains an in-place reserve estimated at five billion barrels, of which 1.28 billion are recoverable and valued at US$95 billion, according to Iranian officials.

Eni signed a US$550MN deal with Iran's state oil company in 2001 to develop the field. It brought the first phase on line in 2005 and was also active in the second phase.

The ability of Iran to develop its energy resources has been hobbled by years of sanctions. The country is struggling to halt decline rates at mature fields and many projects have suffered delays.

Analysts say Iran needs funds to help modernize and expand its oil and gas sector, but Western companies in particular are increasingly wary of investing in the major oil producer due to an international dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

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