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China companies win bids to explore Iraq oil and gas

BAHGDAD: Chinese firms secured contracts to explore five Iraqi oil and gas fields during a licensing round focused on boosting domestic gas production. Additionally, an Iraqi Kurdish company clinched two projects out of the 29 available, spanning central, southern, and western Iraq. Notably, this round marked the first inclusion of an offshore exploration block in the Arab Gulf waters.

Iraq is actively seeking billions of US dollars in investments to bolster its oil and gas sector, aiming to enhance local petrochemicals production and reduce reliance on gas imports from neighboring Iran, crucial for power generation.

Over 20 companies, including European, Chinese, Arab, and Iraqi groups, pre-qualified for the licensing round, with no participation from major US oil firms, despite recent engagements between Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia and US representatives.

Among the winning bids, Chinese companies secured five projects, including Zhongman Petroleum and Natural Gas Group’s acquisition of the northern extension of the Eastern Baghdad field and the Middle Euphrates field, as confirmed by the oil ministry.

China’s United Energy Group Ltd, ZhenHua, and Geo-Jade also won bids for developing the Al-Faw, Qurnain, and Zurbatiya fields, respectively.

Iraq’s KAR Group secured rights to the Dimah field in eastern Maysan province, and the Sasan and Alan fields in northwestern Nineveh province.

Additionally, approximately 20 more projects remained open for bidding over the following days.

Falah Al-amri, the Iraqi prime minister’s adviser for oil and gas issues, expressed optimism that these new projects would increase oil production to six million barrels per day by 2030 from the current five million. He emphasized the government’s ambition for these projects to not only boost natural gas production but also nearly eliminate gas flaring by 2030, facilitating the end of gas imports and achieving self-sufficiency.

Although Iraq once aspired to rival Saudi Arabia as OPEC’s second-largest oil producer, challenges such as unfavorable contract terms, conflict, and political paralysis have hindered its oil sector development. Moreover, the growing investor focus on environmental, social, and governance criteria has influenced investment decisions, with Western oil giants like Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc withdrawing from several projects, while Chinese companies continue to expand their presence in the country. — REUTERS

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