The world’s largest oil & gas companies were either flat or trading lower on Thursday, and despite another jump in crude prices. ExxonMobil (XOM) , BP plc (BP) , Royal Dutch Shell ($RDS.A), and Chevron (CVX) took the hardest hits, dropping over one percent each, even as the price per-barrel of crude futures for March delivery had gained yet another percentage point to $97.68.
But the major integrated oil companies were up to something else on Thursday that could turn out to be far more significant than some marginally negative fluctuations in share-price. Indeed, even as Iran was unceremoniously excluded from talks aimed at negotiating some sort of end to the Syrian war, newly elected President Hassan Rouhani was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, flanked by the country’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh in a bid to draw the interest of some of the world’s largest oil companies.
Iran’s energy sector has languished under international sanctions pretty much ever since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979. While a number of countries, particularly the petro-monarchies of the gulf, are not at all keen on seeing Iranian oil and gas make it back to the global market, the so-called “supermajors” have a different take, as they are more concerned with securing replacement reserves than with the interference of resource nationalism.
According to the Financial Times, Rouhani and European majors like Italy’s Eni SPA (E) , the UK’s BP plc, Shell, and France’s Total SA (TOT) met on the sidelines of the Davos event, in order to discuss alternatives to the buyback contracts that are very much disliked by foreign concerns.
Also present were Russia’s Gazprom (OGZPY) , Brazil’s Petrobras ($PBR), and Mexico’s Pemex. Conspicuously absent were Chinese companies, who have played perhaps the biggest role to date in trying to boost Iranian oil and gas production, but who lack the expertise that Western majors can bring to the table. US majors like Chevron and ExxonMobil were also absent from the sideline meetings, but given the cohesion between the world’s biggest oil concerns it is hard to imagine that they were not privy to what was talked about during the closed-door meetings.
While higher prices per-barrel are usually favored by big oil, it is at least equally as important for them to be able to assure shareholders that they have secured the sort of reserves that will allow them to keep increasing production on a yearly basis. Despite what is said about Iran, the country has not only massive and relatively untouched reserves of both gas and high-quality crude, but it offers infrastructure, as well as political stability (despite conventional wisdom, Iran boasts of a more functional and inclusive democratic process than just about any other nation in the region) that are hard to come by in Western Asia.
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