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Iraq’s Oil Reserves May Be Much Higher Than Thought

Iraq’s crude oil reserves may turn out to be much higher than believed, the country’s oil minister Jabar al-Luaibi said at a recent industry event, timing the statement with news that it will pay foreign companies less in new contracts.

Last year, Iraq updated the estimate for its proven reserves to 153 billion barrels from 143 billion barrels, but if Luaibi is right, the figure could actually be double the 2017 estimate.

If the higher estimate proves true, it would make Iraq the largest oil-rich country in the world, ahead of Venezuela, which claims its reserves are just above 300 billion barrels, and also ahead of Saudi Arabia, with 260.8 billion barrels.

Al-Luaibi’s remarks on the reserve estimates come amid preparations for the next oil tender in the country, which is to take place next week and offer 11 exploration blocks to foreign companies.

A total 15 companies have expressed interest in bidding for the blocks in eastern and southern Iraq as the country seeks to increase its production capacity to over 5 million bpd from the current 4.35 million bpd.

But it also comes as Baghdad says it will exclude oil by-products from the revenue of foreign oil companies in new contracts that should be awarded in June. The end result will be reduced productive fees for foreign companies.

Related: Oil Majors Should Invest In Deepwater Drilling

The tender and the possible reserve update suggest Iraq does not plan to continue producing less than capacity for much longer.

This is hardly a surprise: OPEC’s number-two exporter has consistently failed to fit within its production quota under the OPEC+ agreement, forcing Saudi Arabia to reduce its production by more than it had agreed. In fact, were it not for Venezuela’s uncontrollably falling output, OPEC would not have been able to meet its objective of bringing global inventories down enough to stimulate higher prices.


Iraq has not made a secret of its production growth plans. The troubled country, which has yet to erase all traces of the Islamic State’s presence from its territory, depends on crude oil exports for 90 percent of its export revenue and does not have the means or options to initiate a quick economic turnaround.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh G Salameh on March 30 2018 said:
    Indeed, Iraq could emerge as the oil giant of the 21st century in terms of proven reserves, oil production capacity and cost of production according to my extensive research on Iraq’s oil potential. But this requires substantial foreign investment and technical assistance and also political stability.

    Of more than eighty oilfields discovered in the country, only about twenty-one have been partially developed. Given this state of underdevelopment, it is realistic to assume that Iraq has far larger oil reserves than documented so far, probably about 200 bb more. These numbers make Iraq the fulcrum of any future equilibrium in the global oil market.

    According to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Iraq’s proven oil reserves at the end of 2016 stood at 153 bb. However, experts think the country’s true potential is still underestimated, partly because the current assessment is based on a recovery rate much less than 20% and probably lower than 15% of its oil-in-place (OIP). This compares with a global average of 34%-35%.

    Various estimates of Iraq’s proven reserves by the respected Petroleum Economist Magazine,
    the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice University and the Global Energy Studies Centre in London range from 200 billion barrels (bb) to 220 to 300 bb respectively. However, Iraqi sources estimates that Iraqi oil reserves will exceed 300 bb when all Iraq’s regions are explored with some experts estimating that Iraq actually holds more than 400 bb of reserves. Moreover, only 70% of Iraq’s territory has so far been explored for oil.

    Iraq aims to achieve a production of 6-7 million barrels a day (mbd) by 2020/21. Moreover, Iraq will soon ask OPEC to raise its production quota from the current 3.25 mbd to more than 5 mbd.

    To achieve such potential, Iraq has to upgrade its oil infrastructure, expand pipelines and oil-export terminals on the Gulf and also establish political stability, particularly an accommodation with Iraqi Kurdistan.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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