ARBIL, Iraq, June 26 (Reuters) - Gulf Keystone Petroleum will produce 40,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd) within the coming weeks after the Iraqi Kurdistan-focused explorer's field development plan was approved, the region's energy ministry said on Wednesday.
Discovered in 2009, the Shaikan field is Gulf Keystone's prize asset, from which it aims to produce as much as 150,000 bpd in the next three years and 250,000 bpd by 2018.
Production from the block will help the Kurdistan region reach its overall oil export targets of one million barrels per day by the end of 2015, and two million barrels per day by the end of the decade.
Gulf Keystone operates Shaikan, in which Kalegran Ltd, a subsidiary of Hungarian oil and gas group MOL, has a stake, as well as Texas Keystone Inc.
In recent months, investor focus has been less on Gulf Keystone's activities in Kurdistan than its ownership of some of those assets, which the company has been defending in a London court battle after it was sued.
Kurdish crude is also the subject of disputes with the Iraqi central government, which rejects contracts signed by the autonomous region as illegal and has withheld payment to companies operating there.
Kurdistan says its right to grant contracts to foreign companies is enshrined in the Iraqi constitution, which was drawn up following the 2003 invasion that ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Kurds have since passed their own oil and gas law, whilst disagreements among Iraq's Sunni, Shi'ite and Kurdish factions in the national power-sharing government have held up long-awaited hydrocarbons legislation.