* Production above 3 million bpd for first time since 1979
* Iraq to be world's biggest source of new oil in next years
* Iraq looking at BP, Schlumberger for Kirkuk contract
By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD, March 5 Iraq's oil production has
risen above 3 million barrels per day for the first time in more
than three decades, it announced on Monday, and said it will
sharply increase exports with a major new floating oil terminal
beginning operations in three days.
"While I am talking to you today, the Iraqi oil production
has exceeded 3 million barrels per day," Deputy Prime Minister
Hussein al-Shahristani told a conference in Baghdad.
"Loading crude from the first floating oil terminal will
start during the next three days."
Nine years after the invasion that toppled dictator Saddam
Hussein, Iraq has ambitious plans to expand oil production long
held back by decades of sanctions and war.
Oil executives involved in Iraq's oil development projects
injected a note of caution. They see a gradual rise in Iraq's
production, which ran just below 2.7 million bpd in 2011, to an
average 3 million bpd this year.
Shahristani's figures, if sustained, would signal a major
increase in Iraqi output. Oil Minister Abdul-Kareem Luaibi
called it the highest figure since 1979.
Iraq's production averaged just 2.68 million bpd last month,
according to OPEC. Average daily output has often been held back
by a lack of export infrastructure to load oil onto ships.
Iraq officially announced the opening of its new export
outlet last month, but the Single Point Mooring (SPM) facility
off the southern coast has yet to start operation, with
officials blaming the delay on bad weather.
The new facility would allow Iraq to increase its exports by
300,000 bpd. Iraq's exports were just 2.014 million bpd in
February, Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organisation said, down
from 2.106 million bpd in January, with officials blaming
weather in the Gulf for stalling loading.
An increase in Iraqi exports could help alleviate
international markets wary of cuts in exports from neighbouring
Iran due to U.S. and European sanctions on Tehran.
India and other buyers of Iranian oil have
indicated they could switch to Iraqi supplies if they are
Iraq aims to double its oil output over the next three years
and has a long-term goal of 12 million bpd. Although that target
may be out of reach, Iraq is still expected to be the world's
biggest source of new oil supplies over the next few years.
Luaibi told reporters at the conference that Iraq was
examining offers by Britain's BP and Schlumberger NV
to upgrade production at Kirkuk, one of Iraq's biggest
and oldest oilfields.
Exploration in northern Iraq has been held back in part by
disputes between the central government and the autonomous
Kurdish region over control of fields in Kurdish provinces.
The central government says it alone has the right to export
Iraqi oil, and adds that deals signed by foreign firms with the
Kurdish regional authorities, such as one announced by
ExxonMobil, are illegal.
Luaibi repeated earlier remarks by Iraqi officials
that an announcement on the Exxon deal would be made soon.
Luaibi said Iraq's central authorities had received only
65,000 bpd of oil - less than half the 175,000 bpd they had
expected - from the Kurdish region since the start of the year.
The central authorities say they suspect that missing
Kurdish oil is being illegally exported abroad.