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Iran Plans To Export More Oil. What Will That Do To The Market?


Iran says it is ready to begin exporting it lot more oil. Western markets are now open to Iran now that international sanctions have been lifted. The country's deputy oil minister said over the weekend that Iran hopes to export as much as 500,000 more barrels of oil each day. Now, this comes at a time when oil prices are falling and oil revenues are plunging around the world. So let's talk about what this means with NPR's Jim Zarroli. Jim, good morning.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So let's start with Iran's oil production. I mean, is this going to - is this going to just explode as they come back online with Western markets open?

ZARROLI: Well, for Iran, it is a huge deal. I mean, Iran has been barred from selling oil in much of the world because of these sanctions tied to its nuclear program. Now, it was still allowed to sell oil in some parts of Asia. But, for the most part, it's been gone from the market. It's really lost a lot of its market share. You saw oil production just fall by a million barrels a day over time. After this weekend, it can go out in the world. And it can basically sell wherever it wants to. And it has the chance to become a major exporter again.

GREENE: Now, of course, I mean, it's been a few years now since Iran has been able to sell to the West. And they're beginning again with a whole different world, right? I mean, since the sanctions were imposed, prices have come down a lot. Does that make it tougher on them to make money off all this?

ZARROLI: That is a big question. I mean, when the sanctions were imposed in 2012, oil was selling for $109 a barrel, and now it's below $30 a barrel. So we're seeing - we're seeing that have an impact everywhere in the oil business. I mean, there are companies pulling back on production, you know, because the price is just too low. You're seeing countries like Saudi Arabia having to cut spending because they're seeing their oil revenues fall. There's been an increase in bankruptcies all over the oil business.

There is just too much supply out there. You know, a lot of the countries that might be in line to buy Iran's oil - countries like India, which is near Iran - aren't sounding all that interested in buying a lot more oil.

GREENE: Well - and, Jim, just technically speaking, I mean, how quickly can Iran start pumping out a lot more oil and getting these exports going again to the West?

ZARROLI: You know, it's not really clear. I mean, Iran has said it wants to limit how much it produces at first so that it doesn't have a really dramatic effect on prices. The fact is that Iran's oil industry really needs a lot of investment to get back online. And they're hoping to lure some of the big Western oil companies back into the country. But it still faces other sanctions.

I mean, the U.S. government still has sanctions that are going to limit the kinds of financial transactions that companies can do with Iran, so that's a problem, and it will slow Iran's return to the markets.

GREENE: And real briefly, Jim, you mentioned that they don't want to go to quickly to have an effect on prices. Has there been an effect on prices with this announcement of sanctions being lifted?

ZARROLI: Yeah, we have seen prices come down. But they have been coming down for a lot of reasons, a lot of that having to do with the slowdown in the global economy. It's kind of hard to separate out the impact of these sanctions being lifted from the other causes. You know, it's certainly true that the markets have been anticipating this for a while. And Iran's return to the markets has already been priced in to some extent, which is not to say this isn't a really big deal. It is. I mean, Iran has the fourth largest proven oil reserves in the world. So that's a big deal.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Jim Zarroli, speaking to us from New York. Jim, thanks a lot.

ZARROLI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.