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Reuters, Published March 05 2014

Iraq returns as world's largest oil exporter

LONDON - Iraq is reclaiming its rank as the world's fastest-growing oil exporter, cushioning consumers from Libyan supply outages for now and, perhaps, reviving OPEC market share rivalries down the road.

Despite worsening violence due to spillover from the war in Syria, Iraq - already OPEC's second-largest producer - is likely to post one of the biggest annual output jumps in its history as BP, Exxon Mobil and other companies tap its southern fields, which are untouched by the unrest.

With many export bottlenecks now cleared at the southern Basra terminals - from which almost all of Iraq's crude is shipped - Baghdad is expected to keep up, or even exceed, the rapid pace of oil sales reached in February - at 2.8 million barrels per day (bpd), a 500,000 bpd rise on the previous month.

"Iraq is doing its best to export as much as possible and directionally things are improving," said a senior oil executive from a major oil company at work in Iraq.

So much so that, after momentum slowed last year, many in the industry expect a significant increase in 2014 from the country that holds the world's fifth-biggest oil reserves.

"We think the average for the year is probably going to be about 2.9 million bpd, so maybe in the latter part of the year there will be a little bit more than that," said a Western oil executive from another company working in Iraq.

If Baghdad can sustain oil sales of 2.8 million bpd, its revenue could swell to more than $100 billion at $100-a-barrel oil. Average exports of just under 2.4 million bpd last year earned Iraq $89 billion.

So far, the leap in Iraqi shipments has yet to weigh on oil prices and is being welcomed by other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as it is making up for outages in Libya and reduced exports from Iran due to Western sanctions.