BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s oil minister on Friday appealed to international oil companies to help Iraq to develop its petroleum sector, saying his country is now safe for investment.
In return, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani promised “full cooperation and a competitive environment for fair business.” He also said his country promises vast oil riches that have yet to be tapped.
Al-Shahristani spoke at the opening of a three-day energy conference that drew international investors from as far away as Russia and Japan to a convention center in the tightly secured area surrounding the Baghdad International Airport.
Iraq sits on the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves with more than 115 billion barrels. The country depends on oil revenues for more than 90 percent of its budget. But decades of wars, U.N. sanctions, aging infrastructure and insurgent attacks that erupted after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion have devastated the oil industry’s infrastructure.
Al-Shahristani said the country’s rebuilding efforts also have been undermined. “These factors have combined to keep our petroleum sector in prison … isolated from many technology advances that the industry made,” al-Shahristani said. “Now the government is looking to the sector as a critical engine for future growth and economic development and we have the full support from the government to lead the way for the national reconstruction program,” he added.
The oil minister said that Iraq has so far discovered 78 oil and gas fields that comprise about 75 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves, but only few of them have been developed and brought into production.
Iraq’s short-term plan is to have a daily production of 4.5 million barrels per day in 2013 and a long-term plan to reach 6 million barrels per day in 2018, al-Shahristani said.
Iraq’s political factions are in dispute on a long-awaited oil and gas law, that would set the rules for foreign investment in Iraq’s oil industry and determine how oil revenues will be shared among the country’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Iraq’s Cabinet endorsed the bill in February 2007 but disputes later emerged between the Kurds and central government, mainly over who has the final say in managing oil and gas fields.
The inability of Iraq’s government to push through the oil legislation has been a major frustration to the United States, which believes a new law is essential to promoting reconciliation among Iraq’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish populations and win major foreign investment.