Russia’s oil giant, Lukoil, has begun pumping crude oil from one of the world’s largest undeveloped oil fields in southern Iraq, as the Arab country works to bolster its oil exports.
During a Saturday ceremony to inaugurate the West Qurna-2 field in Iraq’s southern city of Basra, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said crude production at the massive oil field is expected to reach some 400,000 barrels per day (bpd), from an initial 120,000 bpd.
The Iraqi minister further expressed hope that the country’s oil output could possibly reach four million bpd by the end of this year.
“This is a historic and great accomplishment that would enable the government to implement its development programs by increasing its revenues,” added Luaibi.
Lukoil Chief Executive Vagit Alekperov also hailed the launch of West Qurna-2 as “strategically important” for the Russian company, which is the principal firm developing the enormous West Qurna-2 field.
The inauguration of West Qurna-2 will allow Russia’s second oil producer to more than double its overseas crude output.
Earlier in the day, Dhiya Jaafar, the head of Iraq’s South Oil Company, said oil exports from southern Iraq have averaged 2.48 million bpd so far this month and would rise to 2.65 million following the inauguration of West Qurna-2.
West Qurna-2, with an estimated 14 million barrels of recoverable reserves, is the second biggest untapped oil field after Rumaila in southern Iraq.
Iraq is dependent on oil exports for government revenue and is working to boost its oil sales. The Arab country has proven reserves of 143.1 billion barrels of oil as well as 3.2 trillion cubic meters of gas.
Baghdad seeks to increase its crude production capacity to nine million bpd by 2017.
The Russian oil producer Lukoil has turned down an offer from the Iraqi government to replace Exxon Mobil at the West Qurna-1 field in Iraq.
The development of a large-scale project such as West Qurna 1 would bring additional risks to the company, which is already developing the West Qurna 2 project in Iraq, which requires up to $5bn investment, said Andrey Kuzyaev, head of Lukoil Overseas.
Earlier this year Baghdad considered inviting Russia’s Lukoil and Gazprom Neft – both already operating a number of projects in the country, instead of Exxon Mobil to develop the West Qurna-1. Iraqi authorities were angered by ExxonMobil’s deal signed with the Kurdistan regional government , sources in the industry told RT.
In 2010 Exxon and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government signed a number of deals to develop six blocks in West Qurna without Baghdad’s approval. Outraged by the move the Iraqi authorities threatened the American company with sanctions.
Later ExxonMobil told the Iraqi government it wants to give up the $50 billion project of West Qurna-1. Iraq expects Exxon to complete the sale of its shares in West Qurna-1 by the end of the year.
Meanwhile CNPC unit Petrochina and several other companies such as British BP and Italy’s ENI have been reportedly negotiating for Exxon’s 60% stake in order to develop West Qurna-1 in partnership with Royal Dutch Shell, according to Iraqi sources
Currently Lukoil holds a dominant 75% stake in the West Qurna-2 oil field. It is developing the oil deposits in partnership with Iraqi state-run North Oil Company since Norway’s Statoil left the project.
The West Qurna field is believed to hold about 43 billion barrels, making it the second largest oil field in the world after Ghawar in Saudi Arabia.