Chevron Makes Oil Exploration Deal in Iraqi Kurdistan
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By STANLEY REED
LONDON Chevron, the second-largest United States oil company after
Exxon Mobil, said Thursday that it was entering the Kurdistan region
of Iraq by buying a majority stake in two exploration blocks.
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Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times.
Tankers loaded with oil from Iraqi Kurdistan. Politics in the region
make oil exploration in Kurdistan a considerable risk.
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The move supports the idea that Kurdistan, which is run by an
autonomous government that is often at odds with Baghdad, is becoming
an increasingly attractive investment destination for the
international oil industry.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, including its oil minister, Ashti
Hawrami, has been aggressively courting international oil companies
since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Alex Munton, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie in Edinburgh, said that
since 2005, companies have made about 20 discoveries with an estimated
eight billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas.
It has been pretty spectacular over the last few years, he said.
At first Kurdistan mainly succeeded in attracting smaller companies
like DNO of Norway and Gulf Keystone Petroleum of Britain. Larger,
better-known companies have gradually been coming in.
Exxon Mobil helped break the ice when it signed exploration contracts
last year. Baghdad criticized the move as illegal and barred Exxon,
which has a contract to expand production at one of the largest Iraqi
oil fields, called West Qurna, from bidding in a recent auction for
The authorities in Baghdad believe that oil and gas operations in
Kurdistan need their approval. But the two sides have not been able to
reach agreement on managing the resources or sharing revenue.
Chevron, which is buying its stake from Reliance Industries of India,
is considered a cautious company, so the fact that it is willing to
risk Baghdads ire is a testament to Kurdistans attractions.
Chevron believes Kurdistan holds considerable promise, a company
representative said. Unlike Exxon Mobil, Chevron does not yet have an
The region now has a roster of sizable players, including Marathon Oil
and Hess of the United States. Last year, Tony Hayward, the former
chief executive of BP, took charge of Genel Energy, a company with
stakes in some of Kurdistans best fields.
Companies are attracted to Kurdistan because of its exploration
potential and business-friendly approach. Kurdistan offers financial
terms that are more attractive than the service contracts Baghdad
Under Kurdistan profit-sharing contracts, the companies will earn $3
to $5 a barrel, compared with less than $1 a barrel on oil deals in
the south, according to Mr. Munton.
Yet doing business in Kurdistan still carries considerable risk. The
only way to export oil from the region is by an Iraqi pipeline or by
truck to Turkey. Baghdad and Kurdistan have been unable to reach an
agreement on exports.
Pipeline exports have been halted for several months because of a
dispute with Baghdad over payments. Kurdistans production capacity is
about 250,000 barrels a day, but output is much lower because of
The oil produced is mostly sold in Kurdistan for about $60 a barrel,
well below the world price.
The political risks are not to be taken lightly, Mr. Munton said.
It is going to take time for agreements to be reached.
Mr. Munton said that the entry of large companies into Kurdistan was a
double-edged sword. Agreements bolster Kurdistans prestige, but also
infuriate oil authorities in Baghdad and may cause Iraq to bargain
even harder on export agreements.
The two blocks Chevron is buying span 490 square miles north of Erbil,
the Kurdistan regional hub. Chevron did not disclose a price, but a
person familiar with the transaction who was not authorized to speak
about it on the record said it was paying $200 million to $300 million
for 80 percent stakes. The Austrian company OMV holds the rest.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 20, 2012, on page
B6 of the New York edition with the headline: Chevron Makes
Exploration Deal in Iraqi Kurdistan.