While most industry analysts believe it will not be too difficult for international oil companies in Iraq to reach minimum production targets totalling more than 12 million barrels a day (b/d), reaching maximum levels will prove far more challenging.

One of the key obstacles facing the industry as it tries to increase production at the country’s oil and gas fields is the supply of water, which is used to maintain pressure in the fields and help keep the oil flowing.

There are three oil reservoirs in the south of Iraq – Al-Zubair, Mishrif and Yamama. Together, they account for nearly 90 per cent of the oil in the area. Some fields, such as Rumaila and Al-Zubair, contain all three reservoirs, stacked one on top of the other in different rock formations with different characteristics, requiring a unique method of oil extraction.

If the Oil Ministry sticks to its production targets, Iraq will need 13 million barrels a day of water by 2017 for reinjection

Much of Iraq’s future production is expected to come from the deeper, more difficult Mishrif and Yamama reservoirs, which will require gas or water injection. If the Oil Ministry sticks to its planned production targets, Iraq will need 13 million b/d of water by 2017 for reinjection. While there are plans in place to develop the country’s water supplies, they have been facing setbacks and delays.

The key project is the Common Seawater Supply Facility (CSSF), which is designed to supply water to the fields included in the first and second licensing rounds. The facility is initially intended to produce 2.5 million b/d of treated seawater from the Gulf, with eventual expansion up to 12 million b/d.

The project, estimated at more than $10bn, suffered a serious setback when US oil major ExxonMobil withdrew from its leading role in the development at the end of February. If the Oil Ministry does not push ahead with the scheme soon, the delays may have a knock-on effect on future oil production.