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International Herald Tribune: Lack of legal framework keeps oil investors out of Iraq

The Associated Press

Published: September 2, 2007

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Iraqi government officials and energy experts presented detailed plans for exploiting the wartorn country’s vast petroleum wealth but admitted that the absence of a law regulating the industry is a bigger obstacle than security to attracting foreign investment.

Government officials at the three-day “Iraq Oil, Gas, Petrochemicals and Electricity Summit” held in Dubai tempered their grandiose projects for exploiting the country’s massive oil reserves by admitting that the vital, but contentious, law still needed to be passed.

“Security is not stopping investors coming to Iraq, (it is because) they have no laws to protect their investment,” Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, told the Associated Press at the start of the conference.

After months of acrimonious debate, a new draft oil law will be discussed in parliament in the coming weeks, which al-Dabbagh hoped would be adopted by the end of the month.

“The majority of politicians are aware that we cannot go on without it,” he said. “The oil law is the future of Iraq.”

Despite being some of the largest in the world, Iraq’s oil reserves are also some of the least exploited with the worst infrastructure — something Iraq is hoping foreign investors can change.

Talks have been held with Shell, Texaco and Dow Chemical companies on possible investments in various proposed projects, said Fawzi al-Hariri, Iraq’s Minister of Industry and Minerals. He said the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation has also expressed interest.

Al-Hariri hoped that the negotiations would be concluded by the end of the year.

He described a plan for a US$120 million (€87.56 million) upgrade of a Basra petrochemical plant, that could be developed further with another US$1 billion (€0.75 billion).

“We are also considering a second, completely new facility, maybe in the north or central region,” he told Dow Jones Newswires at the conference, putting the cost at over US$2 billion (€1.5 billion).

He said that the plant’s final location would depend on the security situation.

Even more than new projects, however, it is the country’s creaking oil infrastructure that has to be fixed, preferably with foreign investment, said Thamir Ghadban, chairman of Iraq Oil Commission.

Several times over the last three decades, complete overhauls were planned only to be shelved as the country was wracked by devastating wars and then U.N. sanctions.

“We think Iraq needs to bring up the oil production, but it also needs to go into oil exploration,” Ghadban said, adding that the government plans to “convert 25 to 30 percent of probable reserves into proven reserves. ”

If it succeeds, Iraq could raise production to 6 million of barrels of oil a day, up from an average of around 2 million barrels.

“Four million with national efforts and additional two million in cooperation with foreign oil companies,” Ghadban said.

The country’s former oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Olom, called for additional domestic involvement in the sector as well, stressing the need for a “balance between national and foreign investment.”

“Iraqis deserve a better standard of living,” al-Olom said. “The only way they will get it, is by developing oil and gas resources.”

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/09/02/business/ME-GEN-Dubai-Iraq-Energy.php

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