An oil saviour?

Iraq has the potential to supply much more oil

The growing concerns in the world energy market about the risks of a supply crunch have been a critical factor behind the recent surge in oil prices to a new record of US$135/barrel. Speculators are betting huge sums on the assumption that the oil market (and other primary energy markets) will remain tight for many years to come, owing to the inelasticity of demand and to the constraints on long-term supply. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, is doing its bit to allay these concerns, but has acknowledged that once its current crop of oilfield projects is complete in around 2013, there will be little scope for further capacity increases. Similar strains are evident in most of the other major oil-producing countries. One significant exception is Iraq, which holds (at least) 10% of the world's proven reserves, but accounts for only 2.5% of total production. Iraq has the potential to furnish a long-term solution to the oil market's long-term supply problem, but it will need to improve dramatically on its recent performance before buyers of oil futures will be convinced that it can deliver.

If history had been kinder, Iraq could now be producing at a comparable level to Saudi Arabia. Instead, three wars, 13 years of sanctions and five years of internal conflict have eroded Iraq's oil infrastructure and human capital. However, Iraq also has a history of recovery. Production peaked at over 3.5m barrels/day (b/d) in 1980 on the eve of the Iran-Iraq war, but then averaged less than half that level during the eight-year war. It had nearly recovered to 3.5m b/d in 1990, after which the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent UN sanctions severely limited exports, and hence production. In the five years before the US-led invasion of 2003, the sanctions regime gradually permitted greater exports, and production was often above 2.5m b/d. However, it fluctuated considerably due to the impact of years of underinvestment, restrictions on the import of spare parts and isolation from the international oil industry. ...


[Source: The Economist: News analysis

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