Iraq to restart northern oil exports this week

Reuters AlertNet, JUly 24 – Iraq has completed repairs to one of two sabotaged oil pipelines that export crude from its northern fields to Turkey and aims to restart the flow this week, Iraq’s oil minister said on Sunday.

"We completed the repairs today," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani told Reuters in London. "We hope to restart it very soon. This week."

Shahristani is trying to restore Iraq’s dilapidated oil industry, the country’s main source of the hard currency needed to rebuild its economy.

The industry needs billions of dollars of investment to overhaul infrastructure and boost output after years of sanctions, war and mismanagement.

Iraq hopes to boost exports from the giant Kirkuk oilfields in the northern part of the country further next month when it will have completed repairs on the second parallel pipeline, Shahristani said.

The pipelines to Kirkuk have been mostly unusable due to sabotage since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Both pipelines were fractured in the most recent attack on July 9. The attacks forced Iraq to halt sales of Kirkuk crude from Turkey.

In the weeks before that attack, Iraq had sold 8.5 million barrels of Kirkuk crude from Ceyhan, boosting total exports to match their highest levels since October 2004 in June at 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd).

Iraq has tried to boost security along the line by placing it in the protection of the army. Prior to that, security was in the hands of a special dedicated force and attacks were frequent.

When the line is down, the country relies exclusively on exports of around 1.5 million bpd from its southern Basra terminal.

Iraq’s daily oil output is currently 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd), but it is aiming to boost production to 2.9 million bpd by the year end and may even reach 3.0 million bpd, Shahristani said.

"We aim for 2.9 million bpd, and with a little bit of luck maybe we can reach 3 million," he said.

The oil minister also said he was confident that a new hydrocarbon law that will allow foreign investment to flow into the industry will be passed by the end of the year.

"I can’t say exactly when it will pass because it depends on parliament," he said. "But it will be this year."

Iraq needs to attract investment from international oil companies if it is to hit Shahristani’s longer-term production targets of 4.3 million bpd within the next four years and between 6 million and 8 million bpd by 2015.

The oil minister is accompanying Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on a trip to London and Washington.