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Centro de Divulgación del Conocimiento Económico para la Libertad
"...La única forma de cambiar el curso de la sociedad
será cambiando las ideas" - Friedrich Hayek
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Current State Of The Oil Industry

Para los que todavía creen que Irak va a participar en el aumento de los requerimientos de petróleo para los próximos años, por parte de la OPEP, esta es la verdad de lo que está ocurriendo en Irak:

Current State Of The Oil Industry

Over 56 months since the occupation of Iraq, we can describe the current state of the oil industry as follows:

The rehabilitation program (RIO I, RIO II) initiated by the US through some of its companies has not resulted in notable improvements. There are still some projects initiated in June 2003 that await completion. Recent US records show that while $7bn was spent on oil/power projects there is almost nothing to show for it.

The Ministry of Oil has had limited success in rehabilitation and maintenance due to security reasons, lack of funds, foreign EPC companies leaving the country, bureaucracy, mismanagement, corruption and other reasons.

There has been only a limited program to assess the status of reservoirs. One major study, completed in early 2006, relates to Kirkuk and Rumaila oilfields but no action was taken to implement the recommendations. The reservoirs of major fields (Kirkuk, Rumaila, Zubair and others) still need an immense program of rehabilitation, as do most of the surface installations, pipelines, storage, and export facilities

There has been very limited drilling and workover activities at the oil wells. The Iraq Drilling Company and SOC issued many tenders, but few were fulfilled for various reasons.

Most water-injection and wet crude facilities await rehabilitation. Increasing production of heavy oil and mixing it with Basra crude resulted in lowering of °API of exported oil by 3-4 points.

Sabotage of pipelines continues, particularly in the center and north, despite all military efforts and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to protect them.

Refineries are operating at 50-60% of their capacities due to lack of major maintenance and disruption of supplies through pipeline sabotage.

Shortage of fuel has resulted in a black market controlled by mafia and militias, with some belonging to various political groups and gangsters, causing prices to increase. Thanks to the IMF, official prices have been continuously increased. For example, the price of gasoline jumped from ID25 to ID450, and further increases are due. Rationing continues, and Iraqis most of the time still have to wait for hours to get their rations.

Since June 2003, Iraq has been importing gasoline, gas oil, LPG and kerosene, costing sometimes, according to the latest Oil Ministry figures and senior governmental officials, more than $500mn a month. That means Iraq is spending $4-6bn a year, with imports expected to continue for another four-to-five years at least. There have also been claims of corrupt deals involving this trade. The ministry has issued a number of tenders for new refineries, but none has progressed beyond the stages of tendering, re-tendering or feasibility study.

Smuggling, particularly through the narrow Shatt al-Arab and Khor al-Zubair continue, despite the presence of multinational and Iraqi forces. To cite a simple example of the volume that such smuggling generates, consider a figure of 1,000 b/d that can be handled by three-to-four road tankers or a very small barge and at an average of $60/B. This will generate around $22mn a year, hence the struggle in the south for the control of this trade by various groups and militias. According to Brigadier Khalaf Badran of Basra police force, government officials in the city assist smugglers to illegally ship crude oil to Iran. He confirmed on 25 October that the officials issue certificates to oil tanker drivers ostensibly to allow them to transport oil products inside the country. “But,” he added, “they use these permits to pass through checkpoints and security controls on their way to unload their cargo onto special boats along the shores of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.” He said customs officials and the police forces charged with cracking down on smugglers had no right to seize oil tankers whose drivers carried official permits. In his view, there must be some coordination with the Iranian side as the boat owners and Iraqi drivers know where and when to meet. The 100km waterway divides the southern section of the border between the countries. “It is a large area. It stretches from Ras al-Beesha on the head of the Gulf to Mina al-Maaqal close to the city of Basra. It is very difficult to control,” Brigadier Badran said. Smuggling of crude oil remains a lucrative business and the recent surges in prices on international markets is tempting to smugglers. The smuggled crude is not taken directly from oil wells or storage tank. Instead, smugglers bore pipelines and load the crude into their tankers using diesel-driven pumps.

According to a Dow Jones report on 29 October quoting ?Abd al-Basit Sa?id, head of the Iraqi Board of Supreme Audit, Iraq is losing at least 15,000 b/d of crude oil smuggled from its southern fields to Iran and the Arab Gulf states: “The smugglers open holes in the crude oil pipeline networks and load their trucks.” The smugglers unload these trucks into small boats that take the oil to Iran or nearby ports in the Gulf. At current prices the crude is worth more than $40mn a month in lost revenue to the war-torn country. Mr Sa?id blamed the smuggling on “organized gangs who are more strong and influential than the government and political officials.”

A strange and alarming issue is the lack of metering of crude oil and oil products, despite numerous reports by various UN and international auditing agencies and reports in local and international media. Senior Iraqi officials and many USreports admit there are huge irregularities and a lack of compatibility between export figures and revenue. In 2005, the oil minister said his ministry would be contracting for supply and erection of such meters, and a week later the alternate Iraqi Ambassador to the UN, in a written reply to the body, said that the ministry had agreed in principle with Shell to carry out the installation. The metering at export terminals remains incomplete or out of operation, while that at wells, depots, refineries and other places is missing.

The Ministry of Oil has awarded a few EP projects within Daura and Basrarefineries, but has experienced long delays in the awarding process, the opening of letters of credit and contract execution. None is expected to be completed before 2009, although they were supposed to be completed during 2006.

Under the pretext of de-Ba?thification, the Ministry of Oil has undergone continuous changes in structure and personnel, resulting in disruption and discontinuity. Almost 3,000 staff members have been dismissed and most senior staff has left the industry for one reason or another. Many had been kidnapped and are assumed dead.

As for production and exports, senior US officials expected immediately after the war that by end-2003 output would rise to at least 3mn b/d; but so far the figures have been well below this. Current sustained average production is around 2mn b/d and exports around 1.5mn b/d. Exports from the north through Turkeyresumed during the past few weeks at a much lower rate than original figures.

All indications show that Iraq’s oil production could fall, in the absence of new investment and the overhaul of current producing fields. It would be extremely difficult for Iraq to maintain output of nearly 2mn b/d due to lack of proper maintenance as well as lack of security, corruption, chaotic policies and lack of enthusiasm, according to Muhammad-Ali Zainy of the CGES in London who pointed out that that despite the infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars into the oil sector, the country’s production was not stable and had all but failed to meet pre-war levels (MEES, 29 October). The oil ministry was in turmoil because it could not carry out any of its plans in the years since the US invasion of Iraq. Producing fields were aging, and no measures were being taken to revitalize them. Hence a decline has been the pattern.

So Iraq, with current world oil prices, is losing billions of dollars that might have substituted for the need for grants, loans and accumulating debts. Had Iraq been enable to produce 3mn b/d, it would have been generating over $85mn at $80/B.

Issam Chalabi is a former minister of oil of Iraq (1987-90) and former president of Iraq National Oil Company (1981-87). Petroleumworld not necessarily share these views.