Despite being known as the land of two rivers, one of the biggest challenges for investors in Iraq will be to source the huge amounts of water they will need to inject into the southern oil fields to sustain the pressure required to maximise production. Agriculture accounts for 92 per cent of Iraq’s freshwater consumption and the water level of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers has diminished. The UN estimates that 7.6 million Iraqis, almost a quarter of the population, lack access to safe drinking water.
The Oil Ministry’s solution is to build one of the largest desalination plants in the world. The estimated $10bn Common Seawater Supply Facility is intended to process 15 million barrels a day (b/d) of seawater to provide 12 b/d of treated water.
A project of this scale does not only present technical challenges. The Oil Ministry must also provide an attractive commercial framework to make it worthwhile for the developers to pay for the plant. At present, Baghdad is asking for an enormous investment at a time when the international oil companies (IOCs) will see little return from the fields.
But the burden remains with the IOCs. To hit their targets, they must build the plant. The problem is investment is needed today, rather than when the water is required in several years’ time. If the IOCs can work with the Iraqi government and bridge this funding gap, the project should go ahead, and there are incentives for both sides to make this happen.