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Old 12-11-2009, 12:30 PM
Franc Tireur Franc Tireur is offline
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Iraq Accepts Bids for 2 More Oil Fields

By Timothy Williams

Three days after a series of coordinated bombings killed more than 100 people in the capital, Iraq’s government held a public auction Friday during which it sold development rights to two of its largest untapped oil fields to fund the growing costs of security and reconstruction.

A partnership of Royal Dutch Shell and Petronas, a state-owned Malaysian company, won the largest field put out for bid, Majnoon, in southern Iraq, which contains an estimated 12.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

The second field, Halfiya, also in southern Iraq, was won by a consortium led by China National Petroleum Company that included Petronas and Total of France. The field is believed to have about 4.1 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Three other fields up for auction, located in unstable parts of the country, received little interest from oil companies, and their development rights were not sold.

The auction, which is scheduled to continue with five more fields Saturday, has taken place during a particularly unstable time.

Political squabbling has delayed critical national elections from January until March, even as American troops are scheduled to continue withdrawing from Iraq in large numbers.

And because the country’s Parliament has been unable to approve a national oil law, it is unclear whether agreements reached with oil companies before the March 7 election will be recognized by a new government if Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki fails to win re-election.

Still, the auction, the second since the 2003 United States-led invasion, attracted representatives of dozens of the world’s largest oil companies despite government fears that Tuesday’s bombings would dissuade oil executives from traveling to Baghdad.

The event, televised live on Iraqi’s state-owned television channel, was held inside a theater in the Oil Ministry under tight security — even by Baghdad’s heavily policed standards.

Helicopters circled overhead; thousands of police officers and soldiers patrolled roadways; streets within a mile of the ministry were closed to vehicular traffic with the exception of convoys of armored S.U.V.s carrying oil executives to the auction; and everyone who made it inside was subjected to multiple body searches.

Prime Minister Maliki, who gave introductory remarks, thanked oil executives for attending the auction, adding that their presence signaled their “confidence” in Iraq.

Mr. Maliki played down recent violence in Baghdad as an aberration.

“There is no security deterioration in Iraq, even if a security breach occurred,” Mr. Maliki said. “Iraq is on its way to removing all its obstacles.”

But this week’s bombings were the third in a series of large-scale attacks in the capital since August that have killed more than 400 people and wounded some 2,200 others.

If the presence of executives from companies including ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and Russia’s Lukoil was any indication, however, the fear of being outflanked by a rival petroleum company trumped concerns about personal safety.

“I was nervous when I was sitting there,” said Mounir Bouaziz, a vice president at Shell, after he submitted the winning bid for Majnoon, the largest field offered Friday. “We are pleased and relieved to have won this. It has taken a lot of work to get this, including months and months of study and discussions.”

Shell’s main competition came from Total, the oil company that is most familiar with the field.

Total signed an agreement with Saddam Hussein in the 1990s to develop Majnoon, a pact that was annulled by Mr. Hussein in 2002. Two years ago, Total and Chevron signed an agreement with the government to explore the field.

But Friday, while Total and its partner, the Chinese National Petroleum Company, offered to accept a $1.75 fee from the Oil Ministry for each barrel of oil they produced at the field, the partnership of Shell and Petronas submitted a bid to accept $1.39 for each barrel.

And while the Shell group gave a guarantee that it would produce 1.8 million barrels a day from Majnoon, the Total group said its output would be only about 1.4 million barrels.

Total was not entirely shut out Friday, however. The company was part of a second group that won the rights for Halfaya field, which like Majnoon, is a largely undeveloped field located in southern Iraq.

Total’s partners for the Halfaya field are Petronas and C.N.P.C. The Chinese company has a 50 percent stake in the consortium, while the French and Malaysian firms have shares of 25 percent each.

If the consortium eventually signs a development contract with the Iraqi government, it would be the third Iraqi oil field development deal won by C.N.P.C. during the past year.

In November 2008, C.N.P.C. signed a contract to develop Ahdab field southwest of Baghdad. Last month, the Chinese company agreed to develop the 17.8 billion barrel Rumalia field as part of a consortium with British Petroleum.

The three oil fields that had no winning bidders Friday are located in areas where attacks remain relatively commonplace, including East Baghdad field, which lies beneath the Sadr City district. Earlier this week, a bombing killed several schoolchildren there.

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