Iraq’s Oil Ministry has approved the construction of a new $5bn refinery project in Kirkuk to process oil from the country’s northern fields.

The capacity of the existing refining operation in Kirkuk will be more than doubled to 70,000 barrels a day (b/d) from 30,000 b/d over the next five years, according to a report by Kurdish news agency Rudaw, citing the Oil Ministry and a Kurdish politician.

Iraq has long had difficulties in getting its ambitious refinery project programme off the ground. In September 2016, the Oil Ministry revealed a new plan to install 420,000 b/d of new capacity across four refinery schemes, including 150,000 b/d at Kirkuk.

The construction of a project to increase capacity to 70,000 b/d would represent a significant downscaling of plans previously announced by the ministry.

Iraq’s previous refineries programme called for the construction of five new facilities in Karbala, Kirkuk, Missan, Mosul and Nasiriyah with an estimated total investment of $50bn.

The existing Kirkuk refinery does not have the capacity to meet local demand, and oil from the Kirkuk fields is currently exported via a pipeline through Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey.

The Kirkuk fields have a normal daily oil production of about 300,000 b/d. Authority over Kirkuk and its oil fields has been the subject of a long-term dispute between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).