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2014-03-18 20:20:00

IRAQ'S OIL HIGHEST LEVEL

IRAQ'S OIL HIGHEST LEVEL

WSJ. Iraq's oil production surged to its highest level in over 30 years last month, surprising skeptics of the country's efforts to restore its oil industry after decades of war and neglect.

In its monthly oil report published Friday, the International Energy Agency said Iraq's oil output jumped by half a million barrels a day in February to average 3.6 million barrels a day. The country hasn't pumped that much oil since 1979, when Saddam Hussein rose to power.

The Iraqi output surge came as the IEA also predicted oil supply from the U.S. and Canada would continue its "relentless" increase this year, easing concerns that higher global demand and geopolitical issues caused by the crisis in Ukraine could push oil prices upward.

"While international tensions may be on the rise, pressure on oil markets, ceteris paribus, seems set to ease," the Paris-based energy watchdog said. Oil prices were steady on Friday morning, with Brent crude for April delivery up 19 cents to $107.58 per barrel.

Despite possessing ample untapped oil resources, Iraq has struggled to meet production targets over the last five years due to logistical and bureaucratic disruptions. Yet the country holds the world's fifth-largest proven reserves and already pumps enough oil to meet 3% of global demand.

Iraq's oil minister said in December the country would target oil production of 4.1 million barrels a day this year. New fields coming on stream are expected to add 500,000 barrels a day of output in the next few months.

Last month's surprise jump in oil production came as a major bottleneck at Iraq's southern export terminal Basra was finally removed. Shipments of oil from the country rose to 2.8 million barrels a day in February, up by 600,000 barrels a day compared with a year ago.

Some analysts remain skeptical that Iraq will be able to sustain its current level of production and exports. The country is still struggling to expand its output capacity, while upcoming elections in April could create political complications that might further delay projects, the IEA said. Iraqi exports could fall back to around 2.2 million barrels a day this month before recovering to around 2.5 million barrels a day in April, the IEA forecast.

"It's not like Iraq doesn't face the challenges it's been struggling with for the last two years any more...but we shouldn't be blinded to the potential," said Antoine Halff, head of the IEA's oil industry and markets division.

The IEA also said oil exports from Iran had risen to a one-year high of 1.16 million barrels a day in both January and February. The boost in oil exports—if it continues—threatens to exceed a cap on exports that Iran agreed to as part of an interim deal over its nuclear program. The deal stipulates that Iran's crude oil shipments shouldn't average more than 1 million barrels a day over the six months starting from Jan. 20.

Tags: IRAQ, OIL
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