December 10, 2009 / 8:34 AM / 8 years ago

Iraqi oil deals mean reams of steel, miles of pipes

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - If all of Iraq's oil deals get off the ground, it will need scores of drilling rigs, thousands of tonnes of cement and steel, many miles of pipeline and tens of thousands of trained and qualified workers.

The potential workload for oil service firms in Iraq is unprecedented in the history of the oil industry, and could overwhelm the global oil-service sector.

If Iraq signs all contracts now on offer, output may surpass 10 million barrels per day (bpd) and lift Iraq to third place or higher from 11th among global oil producers.

"Iraq will place a massive call on the service sector," said Raad Alkadiri, head of global risk at Washington-based consultancy PFC Energy. "It will start to be a black hole, sucking a lot of the sector in from the region and beyond."

The Iraqi Oil Ministry on Friday and Saturday will hold a tender for deals on 10 untapped oilfields, the second such auction since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The first was in June, when BP (BP.L) and China's CNPC won Rumaila, and officials say deals are close on at least two other fields.

A huge quantity of materials to build wells, platforms, gas-gathering centers and pipelines will be needed.

A 12,000-foot (3,658-meter) deep well needs about 900 cubic meters of concrete and 76 tonnes of steel, said Jerry Kiser, chief operating officer at Almaha Group Petroleum Services.

That means some 14,000 tonnes of steel casing and 160,000 cubic meters of concrete would be required just to complete the 180 wells the Iraq Drilling Company intends to drill next year to boost output by 360,000 bpd, oil experts say.

BP and CNPC want to lift Rumaila's production to 2.85 million bpd from 1.05 million bpd, so they would probably need at least four times as much steel and concrete to do the job.

OIL SERVICE SECTOR TO BOOM

The contracts on offer will push Iraq's oil services market to $8 billion in 2014 from $1.3 billion next year, according to research firm Ergo. Capital spending on oilfield services in 2011 alone will be five times that of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait combined.

The rush for services may strain capacity and lead to price inflation in Iraq, the region and beyond, observers said.

"It will be very difficult for Iraq to follow up on all these projects. Prices for oil services will skyrocket," said one senior oil executive at a large European energy company.

A critical component is finding enough oil rigs to drill the thousands of wells Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has said Iraq will need.

The number of land and offshore oil rigs operating outside of the United States was 783 at the end of November, according to oil-services firm Baker Hughes. That does not include Iraq and Iran and is a partial count for Russia and China.

The Iraq Drilling Company said it will have 46 drilling rigs and 14 rigs to repair wells next year to meet its goal of adding 360,000 bpd to capacity. Wells in the southern fields can take between two and six months to drill, one Iraqi engineer said.

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia drilled 420 wells at its $10 billion Khurais project to reach 1.2 million bpd. Khurais was the largest-ever single increment to global oil capacity when it started this year but is only a portion of what Iraq plans.

"The bottleneck will be land rigs, then the personnel to man them," said Ole Slorer, analyst at Morgan Stanley. "Without an excessive amount of expats in Iraq, locals, who will be in short supply, must be trained."

Iraq needs at least 40,000 more oil workers by 2015, Ergo Chief Executive R.P. Eddy said. There are now about 36,000.

They will have to build four floating oil terminals, clear land at greenfield sites, set up water-treatment plants for well injection, build oil-processing plants, lay pipelines, install gas-gathering equipment and power generators, and haul in water and truck out fuel until pipelines are built.

"The oil service industry should do really well out of this," said Samuel Ciszuk, Middle East energy analyst at IHS Global Insight. "There is no pressure on them to take low margins. 'Either you pay or you don't' will be their attitude."

Additional reporting by Simon Webb in Dubai; Editing by Michael Christie

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