March 5 (Bloomberg) -- Iraq is pumping more than 3 million barrels a day of crude, its highest average output since Saddam Hussein seized power in the country 33 years ago, the oil minister said.
BP Plc and Schlumberger Ltd. have made separate bids to develop the Kirkuk oil field in northern Iraq, Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi said today at a news conference in Baghdad. The oil ministry is studying offers to boost dwindling production at the field, one of the country’s oldest, he said.
Iraq is the third-largest producer in OPEC, behind Saudi Arabia and Iran, and its output is rising after years of conflict, sanctions and sabotage. The nation holds the world’s fifth-largest crude deposits that also include Canadian oil sands, according to data from BP Plc, and the government seeks investment to help boost exports and rebuild the economy.
“Crude oil production exceeds 3 million barrels a day and is at the highest since 1979,” Luaibi said, reiterating Iraq’s target of producing 3.4 million barrels by the end of the year.
Iraq’s average daily output reached 3.49 million barrels in 1979, the year Hussein took control as president. Production plunged as the country fought three wars and until Hussein was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2003. Output fell to as little as 455,000 barrels in 1993, according to BP.
Challenges to further improvements remain, from political turmoil and terrorist bombings to leaky pipelines and overstretched export terminals.
Average oil exports in March will increase from February, when shipments halted for 12 days due to bad weather, Luaibi said, without providing figures. Falah al-Amri, director of the State Oil Marketing Organization, said in a March 1 interview that Iraq’s average crude exports exceeded 2 million barrels a day last month, declining to be more precise. Asim Jihad, a ministry spokesman, said on Feb. 23 that the country plans to export more than 2.6 million by the end of 2012.
Iraq will start exporting oil “within three days” from the first of four planned offshore mooring facilities in the Persian Gulf, Luaibi said. The new single-point mooring unit, extending into the sea from the southern oil terminal of Fao, has a potential export capacity of 850,000 barrels a day.
A second unit will be in place by June, a third one by the end of the year and a fourth in 2013, Hussain al-Shahristani, deputy prime minister for energy affairs, said in a Dec. 22 interview. Each of the three units will add a capacity of 850,000 barrels. Iraq, with a narrow coastline pinched between Kuwait and Iran, plans to install an undersea pipeline to each unit and load oil aboard tankers mooring there.
Luaibi said exports from the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq have averaged 65,000 barrels a day this year, a fraction of the 175,000 barrels a day that the Kurdistan Regional Government had agreed to produce.
Iraq has awarded 15 licenses to foreign companies for drilling rights since the 2003 invasion. The government plans to hold a new licensing round in May. The Kurds, for their part, have signed contracts with more than 40 energy companies.
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