Only 204 exploration wells in Iraq from 1902 to 2002

Vol 12, PW 11 (16 Oct 08) People & Policy

Not in doubt is that Iraq has oil - billions of barrels, most of it undiscovered, with reserves possibly second only to Saudi Arabia.

Reliable information on reserves in Iraq is hard to find, mainly because Iraqis themselves don’t know what’s under the ground. Very little seismic has been carried out and estimates by the Iraqi oil ministry of 115bn barrels of â€کproven’ reserves and 214bn barrels of â€کpossible’ reserves are believed to be wide off the mark, and grossly underestimated.

So too are estimates of 105-tcf of â€کproven’ gas and 315-tcf â€کprobable’ gas reserves. An Iraqi oil ministry presentation delivered in 2005 admits it is, “the least explored country in the region, with an average of less than one exploration well per 2000-sq km.

â€‌ Between 1902 and 2002 only 204 exploration wells were drilled in Iraq across 124 structures, says the presentation. Of these wells, 96 were drilled by international oil companies in 63 structures; and after nationalisation in 1961, 108 wells were drilled in 61 structures by state-owned companies.

“More than 400 structures and hundreds of stratigraphic anomalies are not yet drilled,â€‌ adds the presentation. Astonishing still is that given the paucity of exploration wells, the country today has 73 discovered fields, of which 23 are producing, among them some â€کgiants’: Rumaila North (500,000 b/d); Rumaila South (800,000 b/d); West Qurna (180,000 b/d); and Az-Zubair (230,000 b/d), according to the US Department of Energy.

Accurate reports of daily production are also hard to find. A report submitted to the US congress on July 31 this year says production in the first half of 2008 averaged 2.43m b/d - a 16% rise over last year.

Around 1.89m b/d was exported, earning Baghdad $33.1bn. US officials credit the production hike on better security but say production is still well short of the average 2.58m b/d between 1998 and the invasion in 2002.

Iraq recorded its highest production rate of 3.5m b/d in 1979 but Iraqi officials predict production could go as high as 10m b/d or more.