Iraq’s Oil Ministry is planning to boost export capacity through its northern oil pipeline by 200,000 barrels a day (b/d) to 1 million b/d by the end of the year.

Oil exports, January 2011*
Basrah 54
Kirkuk 13
*=Percentage of 67 million barrels a day. Source: Oil Ministry

It plans to achieve this by rehabilitating the pipeline and replacing a damaged pumping station.

Iraq’s ambitions to expand it crude oil production and exports face serious challenges. These are due to its aged and crumbling oil transport and distribution network, as well as bottlenecks at its export infrastructure.

The country currently has the capacity to export around 800,000 b/d via the northern pipeline, which runs from Baiji, near Kirkuk to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean coast.

In January, the pipeline transported 13 million barrels out of Iraq’s total of 67 million barrels. February figures for the pipeline are expected to show an increase, following the Oil Ministry’s agreement with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to resume exports. This will add as much as 50,000 b/d from the Tawke field, operated by Norway’s DNO (MEED 3:2:11).

The northen pipeline has a design capacity of 1.6 million b/d, with one 36-inch and another 30-inch line. This has practically been halved since the US invasion in 2003, when a pumping station on the second 750,000-b/d line was disabled. Rehabilitating the pipeline will mean replacing the corroded sections of the 30-inch line and replacing the damaged pump.

If the pipeline is eventually restored to design capacity, sending oil north from Iraq’s southern oil fields could provide a solution to its export bottlenecks from oil terminals on the Gulf. However, this would require rehabilitating Iraq’s north-south strategic pipeline, which runs from Basra in the south to the central city of Haditha, and then onto Kirkuk.

Iraq aims to increase Basra’s export capacity to 4.5 million b/d from 1.8 million b/d currently. A 2008 report by the US’ FosterWheeler warned that the southern port requires a complete overhaul if Iraq’s plans to more than double the country’s overall crude output to 4.5 million b/d by 2013 are to be successful. It also concluded that excessive corrosion levels in major pipelines placed them at risk of failure.