Rather than trying to match or surpass its prewar oil production level of 2.8 million b/d, Iraq should “cap [oil] production at a maximum 2 million b/d, export no more than 1.5 million b/d, and start immediately on subsurface [work]” to assess and repair damaged reservoirs in its oil fields, said Issam Al-Chalabi, a former oil minister.
Iraqi and US officials “should forget about reaching what [former Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] used to do. This should not be the objective. The objective should be to install proper management of the oil reservoirs,” said Al-Chalabi Feb. 11 at an annual energy conference in Houston, sponsored by Cambridge Energy Research Associates.
At the same conference last year, AlChalabi, who served as Iraq’s oil minister from 1980 through October 1990, said western oil field service companies “ought to be the first to venture into Iraq because they are badly needed” after a decade-long ban on importation of oil field technology into that country. However, he said Tuesday, “Up to this very minute, there has been no subsurface work whatsoever” to increase production of Iraqi oil or even to analyze the damage to producing formations from years of neglect and overproduction.
Kirkuk and other major Iraqi oil fields “have sustained various kinds of damage” to their reservoirs as a result of “13 years of sanctions, mismanagement, overproduction, and last but not least reinjection of various products,” including “hydrocarbon wastes,” said Al-Chalabi, chairman of Al-Sanam Petroleum & Economic Consultancy, which last year reestablished offices in Baghdad from Amman. Kirkuk’s total oil reserves of 8.7 billion bbl at the start of this year included “1.48 billion bbl of total injected crude oil and products as from 1991,” he said.
“Some kinds of damage are only curable over a long term and at high cost. Others are practically irreversible,” said Al-Chalabi. The result of injection of oil products in some fields resulted in the rise of oil-water contact, he said.
“The common major abuse has been overproduction, particularly for major fields,” he said. Both before and after the recent war to oust Saddam, he said, “Oil production rates were decided more by the political desires and priorities of those in power than by sound reservoir management.”
Al-Chalabi said, “We knew why [such abuse] continued during the Saddam regime. The question is, why is it continuing today? We are losing more oil.”
To revitalize Iraq’s abused oil fields, he recommended that Iraqi and US officials “get everybody involved, going into every field with engineering studies, testing, workovers, drilling.”
After the successful invasion of Iraq by US-led coalition forces last year, he said, “Expectations [as to Iraq’s future oil production] ran very high. Top US officials made a number of statements saying 3 million b/d would be expected within 2-3 months. But that may well not be attainable for some months to come.” The country’s oil production is now at 1.8-2 million b/d.