May 1 (Bloomberg) -- Iraq boosted crude exports in April to an average of 2.51 million barrels a day, the highest level “in decades,” according to the head of the State Oil Marketing Organization.
Shipments rose 8.3 percent last month from 2.32 million barrels in March, Falah al-Amri said in a telephone interview in Baghdad. As part of the country’s efforts to increase production, Exxon Mobil Corp. signed a $100 million contract today to drill 23 wells in the West Qurna-1 oilfield project in southern Iraq, said Idriss al-Yasri, director general of the state-owned Iraq Drilling Co.
The Middle Eastern nation holds the world’s fifth-largest crude reserves, according to data from BP Plc that include Canadian oil sands. Iraq produced 2.89 million barrels a day in April, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and expects to increase output to 3.4 million by the end of the year.
The country depends on crude sales for money to rebuild the economy after decades of war and sanctions. It has awarded 15 energy-exploration licenses to foreign companies since the U.S.- led invasion of 2003 and plans to auction more drilling rights on May 30.
SOMO’s Al-Amri didn’t specify when Iraq last exported as much oil as it did last month other than to say it was “decades” ago. Asim Jihad, an Oil Ministry spokesman, said on April 1 that exports in March were at the highest since 1980, one year after former President Saddam Hussein came to power.
“Two new offshore mooring facilities that started operation in the last two months have contributed to increased export levels,” Jihad said today by phone in Baghdad. “Crude exports in April helped us to reach the levels forecast by the Oil Ministry, or 2.6 million barrels by the end of the year.”
If Iraq reaches this target, it will be the highest level since 1979, when the country exported an average of 3.24 million barrels a day, according to SOMO data.
Iraq shipped 2.12 million barrels by sea from the southern terminal of Basra and exported 387,000 barrels a day from the northern oil hub of Kirkuk through a pipeline to Turkey, Al-Amri of SOMO said. It also sent 6,000 barrels by road into neighboring Jordan, he said.
Crude sales in April generated $8.8 billion in revenue compared with $8.47 billion in the previous month, according to the SOMO website.
Exports gained in April even as the self-ruled Kurdish region of northern Iraq stopped pumping crude on April 1 through a pipeline controlled by the central government. The halt came amid a dispute between the two sides over the sharing of revenue from oil pumped at Kurdish fields.
The government in Baghdad refuses to work with foreign energy companies that sign separate contracts with Kurdish regional authorities. The Oil Ministry barred Exxon Mobil from bidding this month in a new round of energy licenses, saying on April 19 that Exxon failed to confirm it had canceled agreements to drill in the Kurdish region.
The contract Exxon signed today is part of a previously approved agreement for the development of West Qurna-1, which the Irving, Texas-based company has been operating with Royal Dutch Shell Plc, al-Yasri of Iraq Drilling said in a phone interview from Basra.
The government has split West Qurna, one of Iraq’s biggest crude deposits, into two separate projects. OAO Lukoil operates the second, called West Qurna-2.
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