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China Looks To Buy Stake In A Major Iraqi Oilfield

State giants China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) are interested in buying ExxonMobil’s entire operating stake in one of the largest oilfields in Iraq, West Qurna 1, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing sources with knowledge of the matter.  

The potential stake sale of Exxon’s 32.7-percent interest in West Qurna 1 could be worth at least US$500 million, but final decisions haven’t been made yet, and a possible deal could be hampered by geopolitical uncertainties in OPEC’s second-largest producer, Bloomberg’s sources said.

ExxonMobil signed in 2010 an agreement with the South Oil Company of the Iraq Ministry of Oil to rehabilitate and redevelop the West Qurna I field in southern Iraq. Exxon is the lead contractor, while a Royal Dutch Shell affiliate was also holding a stake under the 2010 agreement.

In 2018, Shell sold its stake in West Qurna 1 to Japan’s Itochu Corporation. The Japanese firm currently holds 19.6 percent in the oilfield. Apart from Itochu and the lead contractor Exxon, the other shareholders in West Qurna 1 are PetroChina with 32.7 percent, Indonesia’s Pertamina with 10 percent, and Oil Exploration Company with 5 percent.

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West Qurna 1 produces just below 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil, one of Bloomberg’s sources said.

In the spring of 2019, Exxon evacuated for a few weeks its personnel from West Qurna 1, amid security concerns with the heightened tension in the Middle East with the U.S.-Iran and Saudi-Iran standoffs. The security issues came to light in May 2019 after the United States ordered all non-essential personnel evacuated from the country, citing possible threats from Iran, presumably via the Iraqi Shi’ite militia. Iraq was not happy with Exxon’s hasty evacuation of all foreign personnel from West Qurna 1, with its then oil minister Thamer Ghadhban saying the exit was “unacceptable and unjustified.” According to the Iraqi minister, Exxon’s staff evacuation had nothing to do with security threats, instead arguing that it was politically motivated.

By Michael Kern for Oilprice.com

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