Exclusive: Iraq oil projects face delays as companies resist spending cuts

Fri May 13, 2016 12:19pm EDT
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By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - International oil firms have warned Iraq that projects to increase its crude output will be delayed if the government insists on drastic spending cuts this year, a senior Iraqi oil official said on Friday.

Oil companies helping Iraq develop its massive oil fields effectively perform a role similar to oil service firms in that they have to clear spending with the government each year. They are then repaid with crude oil produced from existing fields.

The arrangement worked smoothly when oil prices were above $100 a barrel but since crude has collapsed to $40 a barrel, Iraq has been struggling to find enough oil to repay the companies for their investment.

Iraq relies on oil for nearly all its revenues and is spending heavily to fight Islamic State in its northern and western provinces.

With its finances stretched, Iraq has asked foreign oil companies to rein in their budgets for developing the country's oil resources for a second year in a row but the two sides have failed so far to agree on spending levels.

The Iraqi government request was contained in Oil Ministry letters, seen by Reuters, to BP (BP.L: Quote), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote), Exxon Mobil (XOM.N: Quote), Eni (ENI.MI: Quote), Lukoil (LKOH.MM: Quote) and Petronas PETR.UL.

"There has been no agreement so far with the foreign companies on the proposed budgets, and that is causing delays in all key oil field projects," said the Iraqi official, adding that the talks were continuing.

The government has also argued that prices for goods and services have fallen steeply during the market downturn so oil companies should be getting less.   Continued...

A general view shows a lake of oil at Al-Sheiba oil refinery in the southern Iraq city of Basra, in this January 26, 2016 file photo. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani/Files