The Economist | Iraq, Kurds, Turks and oil: A tortuous triangle

The governments of Turkey, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan play a dangerous game

Dec 22nd 2012 | ERBIL |From the print edition

SNAKING their way from Kirkuk, a city 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, through Kurdistan and across Turkey’s eastern region of Anatolia to the Mediterranean are pipes that once carried 1.6m barrels a day (b/d) of Iraqi oil to the global market and yielded fat transit fees to Turkey along the way. The infrastructure underpinned the two countries’ mutual dependence. But nowadays the balance of power has shifted. A third party, the Iraqi Kurds, has changed it. It is unclear who will emerge on top. But Iraq’s central government in Baghdad is on the defensive.

Wars, saboteurs and, since the 1990s, economic sanctions have left the Iraqi sections of the pipeline system in a mess. Barely a fraction of its capacity is used. One of the two parallel lines stands empty and the source that once fed them, the giant Kirkuk oilfield, is dilapidated. The oil ministry in Baghdad has vague ideas about revamping the pipeline, perhaps to carry crude extracted near Basra, in the far south, though this would need an expensive new pipeline to link both ends of the country. (…)

Read the rest of the piece here.

 

The Economist | Iraq’s oil: The Kurdish opening

Iraqi Kurds and Western oil firms have outfoxed the government in Baghdad

Nov 3rd 2012 | from the print edition

IRAQ is blessed with abundant oil that is cheap to extract and close to newly built export terminals. Production has hit a three-decade high and continues to rise steadily. By 2035, predicts the International Energy Agency (IEA), an advocate for rich-world consumers, Iraqi output could more than double, to 8.3m barrels per day (b/d).

But Western oil firms are increasingly reluctant to play a part in this boom. ExxonMobil appears keen to sell its stake in West Qurna, one of the giant fields in southern Iraq that will provide much of the production growth. Royal Dutch Shell and BP are both still working in the south, but unhappily so. Suffocating bureaucracy and onerous contract terms make life difficult. Heavier-than-expected costs and delays to infrastructure undercut profits. (…)
Read the rest of my piece here.

 

The Economist | Saudi Oil: Down (just a bit) with the price

The Saudis are worried that high prices are hurting the world’s economy
Oct 6th 2012 | DAMMAM | from the print edition

CRANES loom over the landscape in Dammam, a sprawling port city on Saudi Arabia’s Gulf coast. Shiny shopping malls are rising. Flashy cars stream across the causeway towards Bahrain and its nightlife. Young Saudis are making the most of their kingdom’s latest oil boom.

In a compound up the road in Dhahran sits Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and the source of the country’s flourishing finances. Oil prices have averaged about $110 a barrel this year and for months Aramco has been pumping around 10m barrels a day (b/d), one of its highest rates. The Energy Information Administration, the American energy department’s statistical arm, says Saudi Arabia’s net oil income in 2011 was $311 billion. Prices were lower then; this year the country will earn even more. (…)

Read the rest of my piece here.

Saudi Arabia

I’m back from a 10-day whistle-stop tour of the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I’ve already filed some stories, but  bigger projects are an Iran update and a piece on Saudi Arabia’s domestic situation.

Writing about the kingdom isn’t easy. I spent an afternoon with a key contact in the oil ministry, who gave me a full download of Saudi Arabia’s marketing strategy. There’s a forthcoming PE piece, in which I explain why another supply pledge from the kingdom doesn’t necessarily mean more oil — or a price reaction from the market. Saudi Arabia doesn’t play the spot market and it doesn’t usually discount its oil. “The word ‘discount’ is never heard in the same room with Ali Naimi,” says one insider, talking of the Saudi oil minister’s stance.

It’s more of a slow-burn strategy: inflate global stocks, build up the kingdom’s gas production (to increase oil-export capacity), and keep assuring the market that there’s enough supply — and then some — to go around.

No one should doubt, though, that Brent above $100 a barrel is annoying Naimi.

The other side to the Saudi story — the risks of internal unrest in the largely Shia Eastern Province — is far more difficult to navigate. That’s part of what I’m working on now. If anyone has any information, please get in touch.

Writing projects

I’m doing lots on Iran (natch), quite a bit on Iraq and turning back to Libya again.

On Iran, I’d like to get some nuts and bolts — sorely missing in much coverage — about actual shipments and cargoes now. I’ve got good information about how Iran’s discounts system is working. In short, it’s keeping Asian buyers sweet at a cost of about $1.20 per barrel per month. The method is a little more complex than that… But I’ve also got contradictory information about the White House’s sanctions strategy. I’m reliably told it wants a 25% drop in volumes, which is hardly earth shattering. (That said, Iran’s at the table to negotiate, or may be soon, so it might be working.)

On Iraq, the piece is done. But all information on Iraq is gratefully received.

On Libya, well, I’d really like to get there again. Failing that, I’m working on a wider story or two. One is an attempt to navigate the politics — and to explain why the country’s oil industry seems to be coping fine while mini political implosions happen all around it. Also: where is the oil money going?

Please get in touch.

The Hormuz red herring

Talk of conflict in the Strait of Hormuz misses the real threat to the global oil market, says Derek Brower

 Strait of Hormuz
IRAN’S threat to close the narrow body of water that connects the Mideast Gulf with the global oil market is neither credible, nor the worst possible outcome of rising tensions between the country and its Western enemies. Continue reading

Crossing border from Tunisia to Libya

I’ll have a logistical update later, at tumblr.derekbrower.com. My post from April about how to get into Benghazi from the Egyptian border at Salloum was my most-read-ever post.

For now, I’ve used some downtime in Djerba to update more recent published pieces, mainly for The Economist and Petroleum Economist. They’re here.