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Iraqi workers walk on pipelines of an oil refinery near the city of Basra in 2009. In November of that year, Iraq awarded the right to develop the West Qurna-1 field to a consortium led by Exxon and Shell.

Iraqi workers walk on pipelines of an oil refinery near the city of Basra in 2009. In November of that year, Iraq awarded the right to develop the West Qurna-1 field to a consortium led by Exxon and Shell.

Photographer: Nabil Al-Jurani/AP Photo

Green
The Big Take

The Retreat of Exxon and the Oil Majors Won’t Stop Fossil Fuel

National oil champions are likely to fill the gap left by private-sector players—meaning emissions won't shrink as fast as the supermajors

When Exxon Mobil Corp. decided to get out of a big oil field in Iraq, the government took on the unusual role of salesman. Iraqi officials pitched West Qurna-1 to likely buyers from among Exxon’s supermajor peers, including arch-rival Chevron Corp. There weren’t any takers.

That left Iraq with narrowed options: sell to one of China’s state-backed oil majors, or else buy back Exxon’s stake itself. The sale process remains unresolved but either outcome would stand as a powerful indicator of what’s become of the global oil market. With supermajors from the U.S. and Europe in retreat around the world, national oil champions are set to fill the void.