Iranian Oil Minister Ali Akbar Moinfar and the National Iranian Oil Co. today emphatically denied Western press reports of a major cutback in Iran's crude oil exports.
Speaking shortly after the appearance of the reports, which quoted Western industry sources as saying that Iran's exports had dropped to about a million barrels a day, Moinfar said categorically that Iran was still producing 4 million barrels a day. At this level of production about 3.3 million barrels a day would be available for export.
Iranian oil company sources confirmed, however, that Iran plans to export less oil under term contracts next year than it has in recent months. The sources also indicated that the government is likely to raise oil prices shortly, following the lead of Mexico and Kuwait.
Rumors of a substantial drop in Iran's production and exports have appeared regularly in recent months, but so far there has been no evidence that buyers have not been receiving the volume of crude for which they had contracted.
The latest reports gave no specific reason for a fall in exports, but they quoted industry sources as saying that the National Iranian Oil Co. had asked companies to defer their October liftings and that long lines of tankers were now forming off Iran's export terminal on Kharg Island.
Questioned about the reports, National Iranian Oil Co. international affairs director Reza Azimi said today, "That is all wrong. We are producing at the previous level of nearly 4 million barrels a day. We do not have any problems."
Independent observers could not immediately confirm either report, but production statistics provided by oil company executives gave total production today at just more than 4 million barrels, including production of 3.593 million barrels from Iran's main oil field in the southwestern province of Khuzestan.
According to company figures, Iran's production has not fallen below 3.9 million barrels a day in the last week.
Industry sources believe that in view of the limited storage capacity of Kharg Island, Iran would not be able to sustain overall production at these levels if export loading had been substantially reduced.
"We have contractual obligations and we are fulfilling these contracts," Azimi stressed.
He added that some clients of the national oil company have been seeking more crude oil than is their entitlement under existing contracts and that the Iranian oil company has not been able to meet these requests.
"In these cases they have no choice but to [lifting]," Azimi said.
The oil company's decision to cut back term contracts next year will affect approximately 3 million barrels a day of the total exports now reported by the state company. The balance of Iran's oil exports is sold on spot markets, where prices are substantially higher.
Senior Iranian oil company executives say that although oil production may remain at the present ceiling of 4 million barrels a day next year, an expected rise in domestic consumption of about 200,000 barrels a day will proportionately reduce the amount of oil available for export.
The governor of Iran's Central Bank, Ali Mowlavi, also indicated earlier this week that Iran would reduce oil production if its economy was unable to absorb its oil revenue.
Oil receipts, running at more than $65 million a day, have already pushed Iran's foreign exchange reserves to more than $12 billion. Revenue continues to far exceed the level of expenditure on the economy, which is still largely paralyzed by the impact of the revolution.
Iran has started preliminary discussions with foreign oil companies on long-term sales contracts for 1980, but company sources say that no agreement has been reached and that Iran's total oil production level for next year has yet to be fixed.