BAGHDAD - A consortium led by Russia's private oil giant Lukoil yesterday signed an initial deal with Iraq to develop one of its biggest oil fields, an agreement key to the war-ravaged nation's efforts to boost the output of a resource crucial to its postwar reconstruction efforts.
Lukoil had partnered with Norway's Statoil ASA to bid to develop the 12.88 billion-barrel West Qurna Phase 2 field, the crown jewel of the 15 fields offered during Iraq's second postwar oil-licensing round held earlier this month.
Under the 20-year deal that is to be presented tomorrow to Iraq's cabinet, the companies plan to produce 1.8 million barrels per day in 13 years and will be paid $1.15 per barrel of crude they produce from the southern field.
Lukoil's vice president of strategy and business development, Dmitry A. Timoshenko, hailed the signing as an important step forward in its work with the Iraqi government.
"Now we are waiting for the other legal procedures to be completed," Timoshenko said. "We hope that these procedures will be concluded soon so that we can start our work as soon as possible."
For Iraq, the deal marks a crucial step forward in the country's so-far faltering bid to raise oil output.
Although it sits atop the world's third-largest proven reserves of conventional crude oil, Iraq produces about 2.5 million barrels per day, of which about 1.9 million barrels a day are exported.
Decades of neglect of the fields have been compounded by the effects of war and sabotage. That violence has meant that Iraq has been unable to even reach its prewar output levels of oil. Crude-oil sales account for roughly 90 percent of the government's budget.
The oil auction held earlier this month was crucial for Iraq, during which seven deals were awarded. At the first round of bidding in June, only one deal was signed on the spot.
At that auction, six oil and two gas fields were offered, but interest was only on the safest and cheapest fields to develop, with companies shrinking away from fields in restive regions. Two other deals were subsequently struck.
The second auction saw more deals done - a total of seven. But most of the interest was again focused on fields in the relatively calm and stable Shiite heartland in the south and the American supermajors such as Exxon Mobil failed to even bid.
Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani ambitiously projected that with these fields, along with others Iraq will develop independently, output could climb to 12 million barrels per day within six years. Analysts said those expectations would fall far short of the reality.