European Union sanctions targeting Iran's energy sector will spare a major gas field in Azerbaijan in which the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has a 10 percent share because of its strategic value for the EU, officials said Tuesday.
The Shah Deniz natural gas field, situated off the Azeri coast in the South Caspian Sea, is expected to be the main supplier for Nabucco, a projected pipeline that is meant to reduce the EU's energy dependance on Russia.
In a bid to pressure Iran into engaging in talks over its nuclear programme, EU foreign ministers decided in July to ban EU investment and technology transfers to any Iranian company involved in exploration, refining, or production of oil, gas or liquefied natural gas.
But an EU official indicated that Shah Deniz won an exemption because of its key strategic importance for the bloc.
"Member states recognized collectively that there was an issue of security concerns," he explained.
Exploration of the gas field is led by Britain's BP, which holds a 25.5 percent share in it. Norway's Statoil, France's Total, a Russian-Italian joint venture between Lukoil and Agip, Azerbaijan's State Oil Company (SOCAR) and Turkey's national oil and gas company (TPAO) are also involved.
The EU's sanctions, however, could lead to the closure of the Rhum offshore gas field in Scotland, as it is operated by BP in a 50-50 joint venture with a subsidiary of Iran's national oil company, the EU source confirmed.
"It is the only project (on EU territory) that could be affected," he said.
If that was the case, exemptions would apply for the transfer of technology necessary for an orderly shutdown of the field, the official explained.
"It could take up to two years," he pointed out.
Following Monday's consent by EU foreign ministers, legal provisions specifying in detail the sanction package on Iran -- including asset freezes, export bans and limits on financial transactions -- are due to be published in the EU's official gazette on Wednesday.
They add to restrictive measures agreed by the United Nations Security Council in June.
Copyright (c) 2010, dpa, Hamburg, Germany. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.