North Oil Company

Director general: Sameer Salman al-Taei

Tel: (+964) 5 250 000

Web: www.noc.oil.gov.iq

South Oil Company

Director general: Deyha al-Mosawi

Tel: (+964) 40 319 310

Web: www.soc.gov.iq

Missan Oil Company

Director general: Ali Muarej

Tel: (+964) 3 313 471

Web: www.moc.oil.gov.iq    

North Gas Company

Director general: Hunar Hassan

Tel: (+964) 6 461 703

Web: www.ngc.oil.gov.iq

South Gas Company

Director general: Ali Khudair

Tel: (+964) 4 642 341

Web: www.sgciraq.com

Background

Until the 1970s, Iraq’s oil industry was dominated by Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), a consortium of US and UK oil majors, which had been granted an effective monopoly over oil and gas exploration in Iraq in the 1920s. In 1964, the then government in Baghdad set up a state-run firm, Iraq National Oil Company (INOC), to explore for and produce oil. In 1972, the decision was made to nationalise IPC-run assets, transferring them to the new state firm.

A year later, the concession of the Basra Petroleum Company (BPC), an IPC subsidiary, was partly nationalised, a process that was completed in 1975.

INOC pushed oil production to 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) over the next five years, expanding the country’s oil reserves. The ruinous Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, followed by more than a decade of economic sanctions after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 decision to invade Kuwait, placed huge strain on INOC’s ability to operate, however, and by the time of the US invasion in 2003, much of the company’s infrastructure was hugely outdated.

Iraq remains deeply unstable and the business environment continues to be incredibly complex

In 1987, INOC was merged with the Oil Ministry, which in turn spun off INOC’s subsidiaries into standalone companies. The most important subsidiaries were South Oil Company (SOC), which took over the operations of BPC and oversaw the Rumaila field, one of Iraq’s most important oil deposits, along with export facilities; and North Oil Company, which oversaw oil production in the north of Iraq, including another major field, Sulimaniya. Other important companies included the state refiner North Refining Company, North Gas Company and South Gas Company, which oversaw development of the country’s gas resources.

Since the invasion of Iraq, the Kurdish regional government in Erbil has taken over operations of its oil and gas assets in a move still contested by Baghdad, while a new state firm, Maysan Oil Company (MOC), has been spun off from SOC and a new firm, Midland Oil Company (also MOC), was set up to oversee the development of the country’s central oil fields. Maysan runs six relatively small fields along with the bigger Majnoon field, which it operates in joint venture with SOC. The MOC spin-off was a pilot for a much bigger scheme to give each province of Iraq its own oil firm. Midland oversees the development of the major Mansuriya field.

Between 2009 and 2013, the government of Iraq signed a series of deals with international oil companies (IOCs) to help develop its major oil fields. The UK’s BP brokered the most recent agreement in September 2013, to help revive the northern Kirkuk field in partnership with North Oil Company; it had already won the right to work on the Rumaila field, along with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and SOC, in 2009. CNPC won the right to develop the Halfaya field along with France’s Total and Malaysia’s Petronas in the same 2009 bid round.

Petronas also won the right to develop the Majnoon field with UK/Dutch Shell, which in turn is part of the consortium developing the West Qurna field along with the US’ ExxonMobil, Russia’s Lukoil and Norway’s Statoil. The final consortium developing a major field, Al-Zubair, is made up of Italy’s Eni, Korea Gas Corporation, the US’ Occidental Petroleum, Maysan and SOC.

In 2011, meanwhile, Shell and Japan’s Mitsubishi won a contract to capture and process gas from the Rumaila, West Qurna and Zubair fields. The deal was part of a programme to capture gas resources in partnership with South Gas Company, as most gas produced in the country was being flared because of a lack of available infrastructure to process and make use of it.

Role in Iraq’s economy

Oil and gas earnings accounted for 93 per cent of government revenues and 45 per cent of all economic output in 2012, making the sector the single most important component of the national economy. Given that government spending currently accounts for 66.5 per cent of all investment in Iraq, oil and gas revenues consequently account for the bulk of growth-creating spending.

Role in the global economy

After decades of waning significance, Iraq and its national oil companies’ profile in international energy markets is growing fast. Overall output at INOC-run fields has risen from 2.5 million b/d in 2009, when the last licences were awarded, to 3.7 million b/d in 2012. Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani believes that Iraq could go on to produce 10 million b/d by the end of the decade, making the country one of the most important oil producers in the world, and Opec’s second ‘swing’ producer.

Iraq has also been a source of focus for IOCs and international engineering companies, who had hoped to capitalise on the opening up of the oil market.

However, Iraq remains deeply unstable and the business environment continues to be incredibly complex. An oil law first tabled in 2007 has yet to be passed by the country’s fractious parliament.

Strategy

The Oil Ministry hopes to increase oil output to 10 million b/d by 2020, while capturing increasing volumes of gas. The Paris-based International Energy Agency, however, has forecast that the national oil companies and their partners will produce 6.2 million b/d at most by the end of the decade, citing logistical and legal constraints.

The prospects for gas production remain bright, meanwhile, with the Shell/Mitsubishi consortium starting a processing plant with a capacity of 400 million cubic feet a day, due to be increased to 2 billion cubic feet a day. The gas is already being used to fuel a major new power plant, and the consortium is planning to build a liquefied natural gas plant in the coming years, once domestic gas demand has been satisfied.

KRG oil dispute

The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has signed more than 40 production-sharing agreements with international oil firms to explore and develop oil and gas resources in the region.

This has led to an increasingly bitter dispute with the federal Oil Ministry in Baghdad, which claims it alone has the authority to sign such contracts.

Production from fields in the Kurdish region had been pumped through the Iraq-Turkey export pipeline since late 2008, but this was halted in April 2012 as the KRG protested the lack of reimbursement for their development costs from Baghdad. No progress has been made since then.

Without the passage of a federal oil and gas law, which would govern the country’s hydrocarbons sector, a more robust agreement is unlikely to emerge. The law has been in draft form since 2007, but has not been debated in parliament.

In its absence, the KRG exports crude oil to Turkey by road tanker and has begun the construction of a new crude oil export pipeline to Turkey, which will connect with the Iraq-Turkey pipeline, but crucially bypasses control from Baghdad.

The new pipeline is due for completion in early 2015, and could increase tensions between the two governments.