Iraq says may sign oil deals before oil law enacted

Reuters, July 27 – Iraq could sign joint ventures with international oil companies even before the nation’s parliament enacts a long-awaited hydrocarbon law, Iraq’s oil minister said on Wednesday.

Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, met with representatives from international oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM.N: Quote, Profile, Research), BP Plc (BP.L: Quote, Profile, Research), Shell Oil Co. (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and Chevron Corp. (CVX.N: Quote, Profile, Research), according to a list provided by the U.S. Energy Department.

The meetings at the department’s headquarters were also attended by U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman.

Shahristani said some terms could be signed before Iraq’s parliament enacts its hydrocarbon law, which is expected by year-end. That law would allow billions of dollars worth of crucial foreign investment to flow into the Iraqi oil sector.

"We hope to start some discussions with some (companies) who have indicated their willingness to enter into discussions and even reach agreements before the hydrocarbon law is enacted by the parliament," he said.

Other companies represented included ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil Co., Occidental Petroleum Corp., Amerada Hess Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the Energy Department said.

Initial talks centered on technical agreements ion which oil companies would offer technical and personnel assistance to Iraq oil companies, Shahristani said.

"We’re not negotiating with any company for any of the specific fields yet," Shahristani said at a news conference with Bodman.

Fields of interest were not just the super-giant ones in the southern region, but those distributed all across the country, he said.

"We’d like to see all regions of Iraq simultaneously developed. We want to avoid (deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s) mistakes of concentrating on certain regions at the expense of other regions."

Shahristani reiterated that he wants Iraq’s oil production to rise from about 2.5 million barrels per day currently to 3 million bpd by year-end, and to 4.5 million bpd in the next three or four years.