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This Oil Major Just Circumvented Sanctions On Iran

Iran is now officially pre-qualifying E&Ps for an offering round of oil and gas projects. Putting fields up for bids to foreign operators for the first time in years.

But there’s a problem in pursuing this rich opportunity — at least for one big group of people in the petroleum business.

Americans.

While most of the world has lifted business sanctions on Iran, the U.S. is still holding onto some significant restrictions. The major one being so-called “secondary sanctions”, which prohibit U.S. citizens from doing business on Iranian projects.

Effectively, that means Iran’s oil and gas is still a no-go for anyone with a U.S. passport. Which is a big problem for one of the world’s largest oil companies, BP — with the British major having an American CEO, Bob Dudley.

Incredibly though, BP said this past week it’s not going to miss opportunities in Iran just because of its CEO. With the board of directors outlining a unique strategy that will allow it to get around sanctions and pursue new projects in the country.

Remove CEO Dudley from the process.

BP’s board said it has created a special executive committee that will explore Iranian business opportunities. With CEO Dudley being excluded from this Iran working group — which will instead be run by Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary, who is a British national.

Related: Shell Considering Dumping Its Iraqi Oil Fields

The committee also includes members from Ireland and India, as well as another British citizen.

Such “ringfencing” of the company’s top executive shows just how motivated big firms like BP are to get into the Iran oil sector. Especially given that any projects here will have to carefully monitored to ensure that no other U.S. employees — or U.S. subsidiaries, contractors, bank accounts, etc. — become involved with local projects.

For its part, the American government has assured international firms they will not be penalized in the U.S. for doing business with Iran. This case could represent a critical test for the oil industry — watch to see if BP pursues bidding on specific Iranian fields, and what the reaction will be from Washington. And then to see if this “compartmentalization” strategy gets used by more international oil and gas players.

Here’s to keeping ’em separated.

By Dave Forest

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