With or without Exxon, Iraq Kurds strive for energy autonomy
By Isabel Coles
ARBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Behind the closed doors of their offices in the United States, top executives and lawyers for Exxon Mobil are poring over two sets of contracts, weighing a decision that could shift the balance of power in Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki last week hastily convened a meeting with Exxon's chief executive Rex Tillerson in a bid to woo back the U.S. major, which had seemed intent on pulling out of the $50 billion West Qurna 1 oilfield in the south, in an area under Baghdad's control.
Since signing for six blocs with the Kurdistan regional government in 2011, Exxon has situated itself on one of Iraq's deepest faultlines, bringing to a head friction between the northern enclave and Baghdad, which says only it has the authority to grant oil contacts and control crude exports.
Industry sources say Maliki has offered Tillerson substantial incentives to stay in Iraq's southern oilfields as long as the company forfeits its assets in the autonomous Kurdish region.
A final decision is due within the next few days, Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said on Sunday. It remains to be seen which way Exxon's compass will swing. The company has declined to comment on the impending decision.
"The loss of prestige would be huge," said a former U.S. diplomat, contemplating the fallout for Kurdistan if Exxon were to quit the region in favor of Baghdad. "Exxon's presence here levels the political playing field."
As the first major oil company to risk Baghdad's ire by venturing north, Exxon afforded the Kurds a victory in their turf war with the central government over how to exploit Iraq's hydrocarbon riches.
The U.S. major's vote of confidence opened the door for others such as Total, Russia's Gazprom Neft and Chevron Corp, which recently added a third bloc to its Kurdish portfolio and is eyeing further acquisitions. Continued...