Iran is targeting production from phase 11 of its South Pars offshore project to start in early 2021, according to its petroleum minister.

“Gas extraction from phase 11 of the South Pars field is forecast to take place in three and half years from now and the phase will reach full capacity shortly after,” said Bijan Zanganeh in comments reported by Shana, the news agency associated with Iran’s petroleum ministry.

French oil major Total signed a $4.9bn deal with the National Iranian Oil Company earlier this month to develop phase 11 of the massive gas field – the largest in the world – that is shared by Iran and Qatar.

The energy giant which has a 50.1 per cent stake will develop the field in consortium with China National Petroleum Corporation and Petropars, which have 30 per cent and 19.9 per cent stakes respectively.

“The project entails drilling several wells, building two offshore platforms and laying pipelines to carry sour gas to onshore facilities for processing,” said Zanganeh.

Gas sweetening will not be part of the French firm’s commitments to the project, he added.

The deal has faced much opposition in Iran as Total had previously committed to the same project in 2010 and exited a year after when the controversial Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had assumed office setting in motion Iran’s isolation from the international community.

Hardliners in Iran have accused President Hasan Rouhani of favouring foreign firms over domestic companies and allowing them to exploit the nation’s resources.

Zanganeh clarified in his latest remarks that revenues from the South Pars 11 project will reach $85bn, with Total looking to earn around $13bn by the end of the 20-year contract.

“The conservative press is saying is that since it’s a 50 per cent joint venture, around $40bn will go to the consortium. That’s how it’s being presented to the wider public opinion,” Wood Mackenzie senior upstream analyst Homayoun Falakshahi tells MEED.

“It’s definitely not true. The return the consortium is hoping to make is around 15 to 20 per cent.”

While Total would be responsible for the installation of a massive 20,000-tonne platform in South Pars, Iranian firms will build jackets, topsides and related infrastructure requirements.

“All these tasks will be put out to tender and Iranian companies can participate in these tenders,” said Zanganeh.

The project is crucial to realise Iran’s ambitions to become a leading gas producer and also its plans to start liquefied natural gas production in the future. Iran plans to increase its share of gas production from the current 0.1 per cent to around 10 per cent by 2025, as it seeks to become a net exporter. It presently consumes nearly all of the 202.4 billion cubic metres of gas produced in the country, with some additional supplies having been allocated for export to neighbours Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkey through pipelines.