The US’ Marathon Oil Corporation has signed production-sharing contracts for two open oil and gas exploration blocks in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

According to a 20 October company release, the Houston-based company agreed to take on the operatorship and an 80 per cent ownership of two open blocks, Harir and Safen, to the northeast of the provincial capital Irbil. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) will hold the remaining 20 per cent interest.

Marathon has also taken a 20 per cent stake in the Atrush block, operated by the US’ Aspect Energy and 25 per cent in the Sarsangblock operated by another US firm, HKN Energy.

The firm will also open an office in the Kurdistan Region. 

Ashti Hawrami, the KRG’s Minister of Natural Resources, described Marathon as an experienced company that will be “a valuable partner in developing the resources of our region to the maximum benefit of the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, in line with our constitutional obligations”.

As one of the US’s main mid-size oil firms, with significant international experience, the agreements are widely seen as a vote of confidence for the region.

The federal government in Baghdad continues to dispute the legality of the KRG’s production sharing agreements. Deeming the deals to be in contravention of Iraq’s constitution, Baghdad has refused to allow the region to export oil.

The KRG passed its own law in 2007 and has signed dozens of production-sharing, exploration and development deals. The region has the capacity to export about 100,000 b/d of crude oil, a figure that was expected to rise to 250,000 b/d in the first half of 2010, but any exports are subject to approval from the Iraqi Oil Ministry (MEED 17:9:10).