* Southern exports jump to 2.11 mbpd so far in April
* New SPM platform exports four cargoes this month
* Executives expect overall exports around 2.5 mbpd in 2012
* Iraq to have world’s biggest growth in oil export capacity
By Alex Lawler and Peg Mackey
LONDON, April 16 (Reuters) - Iraq’s oil exports are surging this month to record rates that are expected to be sustained for the rest of the year, industry sources said on Monday, as Baghdad’s multi-billion dollar oil development ramps up a notch.
Exports from the country’s southern ports have jumped by 190,000 barrels per day (bpd) so far in April to 2.11 million bpd, according to shipping data tracked by Reuters. Iraq said its southern exports averaged 1.92 million bpd last month.
The April export rate suggests shipments overall, including those from the north, will grow by about 300,000 bpd from 2011 as projects deliver more oil from the southern fields of Rumaila, led by BP ; West Qurna-1, run by Exxon Mobil ; and Zubair, where Eni is in charge.
Iraq is expected to provide the world’s largest expansion in oil export capacity in 2012 as new outlets open. Analysts said the extra flows, if they continue, could keep a lid on prices, which are trading near $120 a barrel.
“That is substantial,” said Paul Tossetti, an oil analyst at PFC Energy. “It could have a market impact if it’s sustained for the rest of the month.”
Iraqi and Western oil executives expect exports overall to climb in April towards 2.5 million bpd, including some 400,000 bpd of crude from Iraq’s Kirkuk field in the north, and see that level holding up for the rest of the year.
“Exports of 2.1 million bpd in the south are reasonable,” said an industry source close to one of the projects.
Overall exports of 2.5 million bpd in April would exceed March’s total of 2.32 million bpd, which Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) said was the country’s highest since 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion.
A second executive involved in the expansion effort also saw overall exports holding at close to 2.5 million bpd versus 2.2 million bpd in 2011.
“An average increase of around 300,000 barrels a day would be a very good outcome for this year,” he said.
Iraq’s supply to the market was held back for years by a lack of port capacity after decades of war and sanctions.
It signed a series of development deals in 2010 that target oil production capacity of over 12 million bpd by 2017. But widely flagged infrastructure and logistical hurdles are frustrating the pace, making capacity of 6 million bpd more likely.
The opening of a new floating single point mooring (SPM) terminal last month has, however, eased export constraints. So far in April, the facility has exported four 2 million barrel shipments, more than in all of March.
Iraq exports the bulk of its crude from southern ports. Shipments of crude by pipeline from the Kirkuk field in northern Iraq to Ceyhan in Turkey usually amount to 400,000 bpd and are expected to remain stable around that level.
The biggest gains this year are expected at Iraq’s biggest producer, Rumaila, after BP overhauls vital facilities.
Rumaila is now churning out 1.35 million bpd, up from an average 1.14 million bpd last year. West Qurna-1 is producing about 400,000 bpd and Zubair is around 250,000 bpd, industry sources said.
Shipments from the north are sometimes disrupted by technical problems and sabotage, although industry sources say this rarely cuts tanker shipments significantly, because vessels are able to keep loading using oil stored at the Turkish port.
Kurdish militants on April 5 claimed responsibility for blasts on a Turkish oil pipeline that temporarily cut off the flow of oil from Kirkuk.