IOC’s Strategic Positioning in Iraqi Upstream Petroleum

By Ahmed Mousa Jiyad.

Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

IOC's Strategic Positioning in Iraq Upstream Petroleum

Much talk have been circulating recently on "Big Oil" abandoning Iraq upstream petroleum projects after they rushed into the country many years ago. How much truth is in this; who is leaving, remaining and planning a comeback; why and what material evidences are available to provide verifiable realistic explanation are some of the topics this brief intervention attempts to address.

IOCs positioning in Iraq upstream petroleum have seen a dramatic shift since a Grand Opining Big Push Policy- GOBPP was pursued in 2004; offering IOCs opportunities to achieving unprecedented expansion in the petroleum production capacity during short period.

Their involvement and strategic positioning went through three phases: the first, 2004 to end 2008, comprises many memoranda of understanding/cooperation (MoU/Cs ) in search for foothold and as springboard for further opportunities; transparent competitive bidding phase, June 2009 to May 2012, includes four bid rounds and, third phase covers contracts implementation that began from January 2010 up to date.

Ministry of Oil- MoO concluded some 40 MoU/Cs with IOCs from 23 countries, with overwhelming dominance of the US (9); Japan and Norway (4 each); China, UAE, UK and Canada (2 each) and one company from 16 countries.

For IOCs, MoU/Cs represent invaluable direct contact with Iraqi staff and professionals at all layers of responsibility and access to most archives and database relating to upstream petroleum; that helped IOCs exploring where and what they could do to chart their way towards business in Iraq's upstream petroleum and beyond, i.e., to plan their strategic positioning in the sector. Some IOCs had their MoU/C terminated and were blacklisted from further involvement in upstream petroleum projects, due to their agreements with KRG in violation of the government declared policy.

MoU/Cs contributed in formulating and development of a model contract, and by the time they were terminated MoO succeeded, through direct government-to-government talks (with China), in converting Alahdab oilfield from production sharing to service contract. That conversion presents the model for what MoO offers: a long term service contract not a production sharing contract; an outcome many IOCs had not hoped for and probably impacted their decision for further undertaking.

The first bid round, for brown oilfields, was held end June 2009, followed by three bid rounds for green fields, gas fields and exploration blocks respectively; the last was convened end May 2012.

120 IOCs participated in the qualification process for the bid rounds, 55 from 27 countries were qualified: Japan (9); USA (7); Russia (5); China and UK (4 each); Australia, India and Italy (2 each), and 19 other countries with one company each; a different profile from phase one with obvious strategic positioning implications.

The outcome of the four bid rounds and Alahdab are: 14 oilfields contracted to 15 IOCs from 12 countries; a consolidation of strategic positioning. Total contracted plateau production was 12.3mbd and their total proven reserves ca. 67 billion barrels (58% of the country's proven reserves at that time). Three gas fields were contracted to 3 IOCs from 3 countries with total plateau production of 820mcfd and proven reserves of 11.2tcf. Finally, four exploration blocks were contracts with 7 IOCs from 5 countries resulting in discovery of Fayha and Eridu oilfields.

The contracted plateau production of 12.3mbd was IOCs making that proven to be unrealistic and unattainable, thus, consequently revised downward repeatedly!!

During the second phase many meaningful signs for significant shift in IOCs strategic positioning began to emerge, the most apparent consolidation was Russia.

The third phase, i.e., contracts implementation period, witnessed the most dramatic effective and lasting shifts in IOCs strategic positioning.

A complexity of combined reasons had contributed to such an outcome; some are related to IOCs themselves, others related to the Iraqi side (entities, policies and circumstances), while the rest are related to a variety of international factors and geopolitical considerations. Space limitation prevents from indulging in the details of relevant data, facts and documents, but it is useful to mention the most impacting among them: Fracking revolution in the US; ISIS and oil price collapse in mid-June 2014 that inflicted serious blow to Iraq fiscal, security and developmental efforts; OPEC+ impact on Iraq production; Covid-19 and finally energy/green transition and climate change debate.

However, it is vital to highlight briefly the IOCs that strengthened or weakened their positions during this phase.

In the context of Iraqi GOBPP, strategic positioning is taken here to mean IOCs persistent, competitive, enhanced and long-term underrating in Iraq upstream petroleum. Three dimensions manifest IOC involvement and its strategic positioning: horizontal (in multi-fields), vertical (the participating interest-PI in the fields) and volumetric (in terms of proven reserves and production due to field development).

From November 2013 China began enhancing its presence in the country through consolidating CNPC , CNOOC, ZhenHua , Sinopec , UEG and probably CPECC, which   invests in utilizing all associated gas produced in Missan Province . In addition to the above, there are many Chines service companies that are involved in upstream petroleum activities such as drilling, supply and construct surface installations, pipelines, field management among others.

Russian Lukoil enhanced its position vertically horizontally and volumetric in West Qurna 2-WQ2 oilfield and in exploration Block 10 that led to Eridu oilfield discovery; Lukoil found other reservoirs beyond the field's current borders and thus requested to expand Eridu field. Surprisingly, the Oil Minister reportedly said recently Lukoil intends to sell its PI in WQ2 to a Chines company!

Other Russian IOCs with bid round contracts include Gazprom (operator of Badra oilfield) and Bashneft/ Rosneft (for Exploration Block 12), KRG not included here.

In addition to Chines and Russian IOCs Japanese companies increased their presence as well: Japex (Gharraf oilfield); INPEX (Exploration Block 10/Eridu oilfield) and Itochu bought entire Shell' PI (20%) in WQ1.

Against the consolidation of the Chines, Russian and Japanese companies, other IOCs lost or weakened their presence in upstream petroleum; these include Big Oil- as ExxonMobil, Shell and Oxy and medium-small size companies such as Petronas, Kogas, Kuwait Energy, TPAO.

Occidental Petroleum relinquished, in 2016, its PI in Zubair oilfield to South Oil Company (now Basra Oil Company), due to its decision pulling out from projects in the Middle East for financial reasons.

ExxonMobil demise began almost ten years ago soon after it had attained significant consolidation; a demise of its own making!! Apart from the contribution of the Iraqi factors ExxonMobil faced and facing many other challenges that exacerbate its decision to abandon Iraq. These include restructuring its international profile; energy transition (away from fossil-based to renewable-energy) environmentally-conscious; shareholder revolts, expulsion of ExxonMobil representative from EITI'MSG due to position regarding Dobb-Franck issue and the forthcoming SEC environmental compliance rules.

Royal Shell story is not very different from that of ExxonMobil. Shell launched initially a powerful strategic positioning, resisted the temptation of engaging with KRG petroleum and diversified its portfolio in oil, gas and petrochemical projects. Now it has much weakened role; withdrew from Majnoon oilfield, sold its PI in WQ1, rumors that it contemplate leaving Basra Gas Compan- BGC , whose  HoA was signed in 2008 but it did not deliver the contracted target, and Nibras petrochemical project, with MIM & MoO, draggeed for too many years without any prospect.

Again, Shell decision to leave WQ1 and Majnoon oilfields and possibly BGC was not entirely due to contractual and working conditions in Iraq; one possible explanation relates to Shell' overall plan to restructure its global business, following its takeover of British Gas Group- BGG. Also Shell faces legal action; A Dutch court ruled, recently, that Shell will have to reduce its carbon emissions by 45 percent from 2019 levels by 2030.

BP has only one engagement- Rumaila oilfield, with almost equal PI with CNPC (while during the June 2009 bidding round BP' PI was double that of CNPC). Recently, BP decided to spin off its involvement in Rumaila into a stand-alone company, a "ring fencing practice", for reasons relating to diverting its global assets and investment plans.  Though this move is more structural and organizational in nature that has, contractually, no effect on Iraq, it, nevertheless, could indicate possible departure from Rumaila sooner or later.

Total, rebranded TotalEnergies, have very modest PI in only one oilfield- Halfaya, is trying a comeback to Iraq through concluding HoA comprising four major projects, three of which are part of SIIP that Iraq wasted too many years discussing with ExxonMobil!!

Surely, IOCs strategic positioning has significant implications for petroleum sector and the prospect of the entire economy. There has been a tendency for some to be highly selective by focusing only on one Iraqi based, real reason, such as harsh contractual terms; type of contracts; corruption, resource mismanagement and security conditions among others. While all these are real and effective, they are absolutely not the only factors behind IOCs shift and change of priorities as there is a complex wed that one should be aware of; 20 IOCs have recently warned for tax violation and IOCs that lost their strategic positioning inside Iraqi petroleum had themselves contributed to that outcome.

Moreover, global energy/green transition and international geopolitics have powerful ramifications though the debate is, as usual, not conclusive. While IEA recent report could have effective impact, REN21 new report raises doubt; and such wide divergence suggests oil remains needed much longer than some thinks.

Click here to download the full report in pdf format.

Mr Jiyad is an independent development consultant, scholar and Associate with the former Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES), London. He was formerly a senior economist with the Iraq National Oil Company and Iraq's Ministry of Oil, Chief Expert for the Council of Ministers, Director at the Ministry of Trade, and International Specialist with UN organizations in Uganda, Sudan and Jordan. He is now based in Norway (Email: mou-jiya(at)online.no, Skype ID: Ahmed Mousa Jiyad). Read more of Mr Jiyad's biography here.

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China to Snap Up Iraqi Oil Assets?

By John Lee.

Both BP and Lukoil are reported to be considering quitting upstream oil operations in Iraq.

Reuters quotes Iraq's Oil Minister, Ihssan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail, as making the comments during a parliamentary session last week.

Last month, BP was said to be planning to spin off its Iraqi operations in Iraq into a separate company, which would be jointly owned with its partner in the giant Rumaila project, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

Meanwhile, the Minister said Russia's Lukoil is thought to be trying sell its 75-percent stake in the West Qurna-2 oilfield to Chinese firms.

More here and here.

(Sources: Reuters, Oil Price)

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Increasing Oil Production at West Qurna 2

By John Lee.

Iraq's Oil Minister, Ihssan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail, has announced the start of experimental operations at the Yamamah reservoir in the West Qurna 2 oil field, with the aim of increasing output from the reservoir from 10,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 350,000 bpd.

When fully implemented, the development would bring total production at the field to 800,000 bpd.

The Minister praised the work of Russian company Lukoil, which is developing the field.

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

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Iraqi Oil Minister Visits Tatneft HQ

By John Lee.

On a recent visit to the Russian republic of Tatarstan, Iraq's Oil Minister Ihssan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail attended a presentation that the headquarters of the oil company Tatneft.

The Iraqi delegation also visited the Taneco Oil Refining Complex, the Kama Tyres manufacturing plant, and the Nizhnekamsk Truck Tyre Factory.

Nail Maganov, General Director of PJSC TATNEFT:

"Our Company has had a long-standing partnership with the Republic of Iraq. Our professionals have participated in the construction of 700 wells in the West Qurna, North Rumaila and Luheis oil fields, as well as in other projects.

"Tatneft has unique competencies in the Upstream and Downstream, the use of digital technologies in the industry. We are confident that our experience and knowledge could find their application in the Republic of Iraq as well, and we are ready to continue cooperation with our Iraqi partners in areas of interest to them".

(Sources: Ministry of Oil, Tatneft)

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Russian Oil Firm to Finance Nassiriyah Development

By John Lee.

The Dhi Qar Oil Company (DQOC) has reportedly said that Litasco, the international marketing and trading company of Russia's LUKOIL, will finance the doubling of capacity at the Nassiriyah oil field from 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) t0 200,000 bpd.

The project includes a 42-kilometer pipeline, and will be a joint venture between the State Company for Oil Projects (SCOP) and Italy's Progetti.

(Source: Shafaq)

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Gazprom Neft developing Fourth Well at Sarqala

By John Lee.

Russia's Gazprom Neft has produced its four-millionth tonne (32-millionth barrel) of oil since starting commercial development of the Sarqala field in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

Three wells are now in operation at this field, with daily production running at about 3,100 tonnes (24,000 barrels) per day.

Limitations arising under the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, Gazprom Neft Middle East B.V. is continuing to develop this field and is implementing a number of key production projects, including drilling a fourth well, the commissioning of which will increase production to 4,100 (around 32,000 barrels) per day. The commissioning of this well is scheduled for the first half of 2021.

Gazprom Neft Middle East B.V. is involved in this project with the Government of the KRI as part of the latter's development of the region's energy supply system. Associated petroleum gas (APG) produced at the Sarqala field will be used as fuel for energy facilities currently under development by government authorities.

This programme envisages the construction of a 4.5-kilometre gas pipeline to connect the field to power generation facilities. Implementing this project will not only increase APG utilisation at the field, but will also facilitate energy supplies to several districts within the KRI.

(Source: Gazprom Neft)

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Mansuriya Gas Contract “Cancelled”; Russia “Extremely Interested”

By John Lee.

Iraq has reportedly cancelled a contract to develop its Mansuriya gas field near the Iranian border.

Iraq Business News understands that, under a deal agreed in 2010, the field was being developed by Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) (37.5%), Iraqi Oil Exploration Company (25%), Kuwait Energy (KEC) (22.5%), and Kogas (15%).

According to Reuters, the consortium halted development in 2014 due to security concerns after the so-called Islamic State group overran large parts of Iraq.

Writing in Oil Price, Simon Watkins says "Russia has again made it clear that it is extremely interested in taking over the development contract of Iraq's Mansuriya gas field following the recent termination of the contract with a consortium led by Turkey's state-owned TPAO."

More here and here.

(Sources: Reuters, Oil Price)

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