By Andrew Callus
PARIS (Reuters) - France's Total has signed a deal with Iran to further develop its part of the world's largest gas field, becoming the first western energy company to sign a major deal with Tehran since the lifting of international sanctions earlier this year.
Total confirmed on Tuesday it had signed a heads of agreement with National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for the Phase 11 development of South Pars in the Gulf, which extends into Qatari waters where it is known as the North field.
The SP11 project will progress in two stages, the first costing an estimated $2 billion, Total said. The produced gas will be fed into Iran's gas network.
The French company has already played a key role in Iran's energy industry, including the development of phases 2 and 3 of South Pars in the 2000s, before pulling out of the country after international sanctions were imposed in 2010.
Foreign companies keen to tap into Iran's vast oil and gas reserves have so far made little inroads into the country despite the lifting of many sanctions earlier this year following a landmark agreement on Iran's nuclear program.
Tehran has pledged to open up its oil industry but foreign companies, including BP and Italy's Eni recently said they still have little information about Iranian oil fields and contract terms, hindering investment decisions.
Chief Executive Officer Patrick Pouyanne, who has taken some major investment decisions in recent years despite one of the sector's longest downturns, said the agreement "resulted in an attractive commercial framework."
Total said it would operate the SP11 project and have a 50.1 percent stake in it. Petropars, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company, will have a 19.9 percent stake while state-China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) [CNPET.UL] will have a 30 percent stake.
The development will have a production capacity of 1.8 billion cubic feet per day, or 370,000 barrels of oil equivalent, with output to be fed into Iran's gas network.
"This project fits with the group's strategy of expanding its presence in the Middle East, where the origins of the group lie, and growing its gas portfolio by adding low unit cost, long plateau gas assets," Pouyanne said in a statement.
Total will develop the project in compliance with national and international laws and the investment will be undertaken without bank finance, he told reporters.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Writing by Ron Bousso; Editing by Dominique Vidalon, Greg Mahlich)