By Hassan Hafidh
LONDON--Iraq's semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan plans to restart 100,000 barrels a day of oil exports next week in a goodwill gesture aimed at breaking a deadlock with Baghdad over payment for previous exports, according to an advisor to the Kurdish minister of natural resources and letters sent to foreign companies working in the region.
The move, which one of the letters said has diplomatic and political support from countries whose oil companies operate in the region, comes at a time of heightened tension between the governments in Erbil and Baghdad, following the disputed entry of several major oil companies into the Kurdish region contrary to the wishes of the Iraqi central government.
However, the resumption of oil shipments may only last until August 31, if the long-running dispute with Baghdad cannot be resolved, according to formal letters, obtained by Dow Jones Newswires, sent by Kurdish minister of natural resources, Ashti Hawrami, to one of the contracting companies.
"What I have in mind is to restart the oil exports for only one month ie. for all of August period," Hawrami said in a letter dated July 28. "If the payments are not released by the end of this period, then we agree to halt all the exports at the midnight of 31 of August," he added.
An advisor to Hawrami said he expects exports to restart only on August 7, because companies need some time to prepare.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, suspended crude oil exports of nearly 100,000 barrels a day in April, protesting that Baghdad was delaying payment of $1.5 billion it gathered in revenues from those exports. The KRG said it needed those revenues to pay the companies that produced the oil.
Hawrami said in a letter that he was restarting exports without a commitment that Baghdad would make the disputed payments, but that he hoped the gesture would break the negotiating deadlock that has reduced Iraqi oil output.
Kurdistan says only two payments totaling $514 million have been received, with the last payment made in May 2011. Baghdad said earlier this year that it would release the final payment of $560 million, but was awaiting an audit before it could proceed. Mr. Hawrami, however, said that the entire audit has been completed and sent to Baghdad, but payment still hasn't been issued.
Within the Kurdish region, some 40,000 barrels a day can be exported from Taq Taq oil field being developed by Genel Energy PLC (GENL.LN), which is partly owned by Tony Hayward, the former chief executive officer of BP. Another 40,000 barrels a day can be produced from the Tawke oil field developed by Norway's DNO International ASA (DNO.OS), in partnership with Genel Energy. The remaining 20,000 barrels a day will come from the Khormala oil field being developed by KAR company, the KRG advisor said.
The KRG's has previously said that it could raise production up to 200,000 barrels a day, but only if Baghdad government issues the outstanding payments.
Write to Hassan Hafidh at email@example.com
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