France's Total made the first move to restart momentum and augment production at South Pars; now, bets are on for who—if anyone—is set to follow.

Upon the signing of JCPOA, the consensus was that Iran would soon witness a massive influx of foreign investment in the exploration and development of the country's oil and gas fields, and most importantly the South Pars gas field. Yet, despite ambitious intentions and the many MoUs that were signed, international oil companies (IOCs) did not proceed with large-scale investments, much to the dissatisfaction of local companies that were looking for financially strong partners. Until this year.

When, in July 2017, France's Total put its signature under a contract worth USD4.8 billion, Iranian oil and gas companies perceived it as a game changer. The first Western oil company to come to South Pars, Total had been involved in previous development phases, but sanctions and disagreements had led to its retreat. The hope is that the return of a major oil company returning to Iran will be a catalyst for others to follow, and the wait-and-see attitude with which IOCs had treated the country will at last be over.

Total will lead the development of phase 11 of the South Pars project, with a 50.1% share. China's CNPC's investment stands at 30%, while Petropars, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), owns 19.9% of the project under the agreement. However, subcontracts will provide Iran's engineering, procurement and construction companies, general contractors, and oil services companies with new employment opportunities, as tasks such as drilling wells and manufacturing equipment will be put out to tender.
Subcontracts should be awarded by the end of the year, and operational works could commence early in 2018. Phase 11 will consist of two parts, starting with a USD2billion project that will connect 30 wells and two wellhead platforms through subsea pipelines to existing infrastructure. Next in line is the construction of offshore compression facilities. The most mind-blowing tender is for a 20,000-ton offshore platform that will be seven times bigger than the largest platform in the South Pars gas field so far, and will produce 56 million cbm of gas per day.

The current output of the South Pars field is around 600 million cbm of gas per day, but the potential to increase production is enormous. Investments and involvement of IOCs in the development of new phases will be a key in monetizing its reserves. Based on current prices, phase 11 alone is estimated to generate total revenues of USD85 billion.

Of all Iran's assets, the South Pars gas field is the country's most prized asset. Shared with Qatar, it is part of the world's largest gas deposit, the South Pars/North Dome Gas-Condensate field. The sheer size of the whole field is illustrated by the fact that its recoverable reserves are greater than the 12 next biggest gas fields of the world combined.

Situated underneath the Persian Gulf, right between the Iranian city of Asaluyeh and the northern shore of Qatar, the two countries share ownership of this giant field. The Qatari component is called North Dome, and surpasses the size of Iran's domain. Still, the 3,700sqkm in Iranian territorial waters harbor a staggering 14,000 cubic kilometers of gas, of which more than 10,000 cubic kilometers are recoverable.
The South Pars Field was discovered in 1990 by NIOC, and production started in 2002 with a capacity of 28 million cbm per day. Since then, production has been elevated in different phases, through investments of consortiums in which many of the world's largest IOCs participated. Though, sanctions put a stop to new investments.

It remains to be seen if others will follow Total's reentry. If the fears of complications of multi-billion investments in Iran prove to be irrational, much of the country's near future will be written with a gas-filled pen, as will contracts with other oil majors waiting in line.